Who says life is a bowl of cherries? Mary Engelbreit? No, wait, that quote was “life is just a chair of bowlies.” Actually, my quick Google search shows that “Life is just a bowl of cherries” was a song written in 1931, sung by Rudy Vallee and then in 1967 by Doris Day, with plenty of others in between. The original idiom implies that everything is carefree and life is wonderful.

Even though most of us would probably protest that we know life is hard and full of challenges, this idiom is sneaky, invading our expectations and coloring our daily lives. As with many figures of speech I like to challenge, this little idea is insidious, lurking in the shadows, unrecognized. Too often, we think life should be simple, carefree, and easy. We expect that we can dodge difficulties. We yearn to protect our children and loved ones from all pain and tribulation, so that they can have smooth, trouble-free lives. More importantly, when none of these unrealistic aspirations are achievable, we blame ourselves. We feel like failures when we are unable to meet this impossible expectation to make life’s trials vanish.

Even though we know life’s path is often through the pits, we lament the toll the negatives will take. The all or nothing, black and white thinking invades, and we think one difficulty wrecks the whole. One bad day for your child will ruin her life. One setback for you means you never meet your goal. To paraphrase another familiar fruit idiom, one spoiled cherry does not ruin the whole bowl. Especially if you clean out the bowl frequently! Sure, the mold will spread if you don’t weed out the rotten ones.

Moving through our lives, we need to note the rotten moments, and set them aside, just like that one funky cherry. The hard spots, the pits, are where the growth comes. The challenges that strengthen, calling us (or our kids) to stand up, to define what works for the life we have crafted, would not be possible without the pits. A life that is smooth, always running well, is not only boring, unrealistic, and unachievable, it is not a road that stretches us. No obstacles mean no push to change.

All of this is not to say that we can’t lament the tough spots. Validation that life is hard is very comforting. Release the sense, however, that life is hard because you are not doing your best or have failed somehow. We are all doing the best that we can, in a way that works for us, at any given moment. There is just much hard stuff we encounter that we cannot control. It’s as much a part of being alive as the fact that your brain keeps thinking, your heart keeps beating, and your lungs keep breathing. So have a little self-compassion–life is hard, no matter what you do. And these challenges offer us a juicy chance to evolve.

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