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  • Writer's pictureBen Pechey

When life gives you Lemons...

The proverbial phrase ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ is used time after time as a tool to inspire, motivate, and create constant progress. On the face of it, the phrase is a positive tool, but I also think can be used as a stick to beat ourselves with.

The phrase dates back to the 1900s, its origins come from writer Elbert Hubbard, who in Literary Digest, wrote “A genius is a man who takes the lemons that Fate hands him and starts a lemonade-stand with them." The phrase was streamlined and was immortalised in print when writer and lecturer Dale Carnegie wrote ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ in his 1948 book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. This phrase asks us all to have a positive and can-do attitude in the face of adverse situations.

It would seem that we have been urged to come out of trauma, difficult working environments, systemic harmful structures full of positive energy and a desire to progress. Yet there are some days that making lemonade of life's lemons is simply impossible. 

Why must we always make lemonade?

A forced positive outlook ignores the struggle that life pushes us through, in a sense it is toxic. To only expect pleasant productivity is to neglect the process of healing. Many a good nurse will tell you the best way to heal a wound is to keep it clean and leave it open to the fresh air - in essence not very much at all. 

In order to survive this life, we need not make lemonade at every given moment, instead, we need to take time to heal, collect ourselves, and gently make it through life - one day at a time. The constant narrative that we should be making and moving on feeds into a narrative that life is only worth living if we are making huge swathes of progress on a daily basis. 

There are times when progress is possible, good, and freeing. However, I do believe this is only possible with balance, with an understanding that for all those progress-filled days, there needs to be rest and recuperation. 

So we don’t always need to be making lemonade, sometimes the lemons can stay on the tree, undisturbed, ripening for another day.


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