We've all seen it, said it, sent it: #thestruggleisreal. The origin of the phrase is unknown, but its uses vary. Some say it when describing hard circumstances, others to comment on the irony of first world problems, and some to describe the feeling when one is down on their luck at any level. I would not be surprised if I were told I use it daily. Like any popular phrase, #thestruggleisreal quickly loses meaning and becomes a cliche over time. Before we move on to the next phrasing fad, though, we should take a look at why American culture has latched onto it so tightly in recent months.
First of all, using a familiar phrase draws attention. Many would say they don't like sharing personal problems, but the second the popular hashtag is used in a sentence (online or otherwise), they are proclaiming to the world that there is, in fact, a struggle in their lives, prompting further conversation on the topic. Humans love drama; there's no getting around that. We want people to share in our struggling as well as in our joys, maybe more today than ever before in history. Media tells us 24/7 that it is all about the self, that you are the center of the universe, that you deserve whatever “it” is at the moment. Capitalism thrives on you getting the attention, and keeping the attention. You decide what to think about that.
#thestruggleisreal can remove attention from difficult circumstances almost as well as it can draw attention to them. By reducing what you or someone else is going through to something that can be summed up by 18 characters, sarcasm and reality can easily mingle together when just the opposite reveals more truth. Vulnerability, though, is not a value in today’s society, so it is not difficult to imagine why such an effect may be made and kept popular.
The thing about struggles is that they are real. Everyone has them. And while they may range from simple to tragic, they should not all be overlooked, because the result of the cause is real, too. Struggles help us learn. They form us into who we are. As Matthew West sings in his song “Strong Enough”:
Cause when I'm finally
Finally at rock bottom
Well, that's when I start looking up
And reaching out
Regret mistakes, but not what you were able to learn from them, and maybe the struggle won’t be real forever.