In Pacific Crest Trail discussion forums, occasionally people mention their worries about doing the trail, such as “I just had an operation on my foot, and it hurts to walk. I feel as if I’m walking on glass. I don’t know if I’ll still be able to the PCT this summer.” And the unvarying response, “You’ve got this.”
I hear (and see) that remark all the time. “You’ve got this.” What the heck does that mean, anyway? Well, I know what people who say the words mean — “you can do it” — but as it stands, it means nothing. In my case, I don’t “got” anything except maybe the raspy fingers of cliché scraping up and down my back.
I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to track down the origin of the phrase, but can’t find it. It had to have started from somewhere, but unlike many clichéd and annoying phrases, such as “bucket list,” it doesn’t seem to have come from a movie. And I can pretty much guarantee it doesn’t come from Shakespeare like so many common phrases do.
There is a song, “You’ve Got This,” but I can’t tell if the song came first or the statement did.
Not that the origin of the phrase matters.
What does matter is the way people use it, telling others they can do something without any sense of the person or what the person can actually do. Seems dangerous to me, and in addition, reeks of false positivity.
In my example above, the people who offered the encouragement knew nothing about the woman except those three brief sentences. How do they know she can do it? Why are they even urging her to try? No one suggested she check with her doctor first to make sure she won’t further injure her foot. Admittedly, most of the women in the group seem young (young-ish, anyway), and so they have not yet gotten to the point where their bodies refuse to do what they tell them to do, so I’m sure it never occurred to them that others might not be able to do what they themselves can. The fact that some of the women hiked the trail without ever having been on a single backpacking trip and many had only been on one or two short trips is an astonishing acknowledgement of the power of youth.
(Oddly, it’s almost four years to the day that I first began writing about and dreaming of life on foot. In that initial research, I discovered that potential hikers often spend months in preparation, taking long hikes and backpacking trips, drying foods, mapping water holes, sending ahead care packages to themselves at various places along the trail. They need to be prepared for emergencies, all weather conditions, and whatever might overtake them on the trail. And yet now I’m reading about people that aren’t doing any of that — just buying their gear and setting out. Ah, youth!)
People often say that hiking the trail is more mental than physical, that the sheer distance and immensity of the trail get to people more than the physical activity, but I don’t see how that can be the case with everyone. Even after all my walking, hiking, trudging with a backpack, there is no way I can hike twenty miles in one day, let alone day after day after day. Even when I was young, I couldn’t do it.
And yet, I’m sure if I posted my reservations in a PCT group, I’d get a spate of “You’ve got this.”
Someday, perhaps, I will attempt to hike the trail, or at least a small portion of it, but if do, it will because of a lot of hard work in preparation and not because someone told me I’ve “got this”.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Unfinished, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.