The Shit Sandwich

shit sandwich

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I’m living a very different life than I thought I would be four or five years ago.

It’s easy, when you’re looking ahead to the future, to visualize only the golden, stellar, awesome parts. Obviously, right? I mean, who sits around visualizing the mundane and tedious and frustrating bits of their future?

I certainly didn’t. All I saw, four or five years ago, was a life of purpose and ease — days full of meaningful client sessions, bountiful green juices, leisurely yoga afternoons … basically your stereotypical cool-girl Instagram feed. <eye roll>

Flash forward to the present, and … I’ve been to yoga once in the past six months and I still don’t own a juicer.

I do have plenty of clients, and they certainly fill my career with meaning and purpose (as does hosting this podcast, writing blogs, and leading our online programs).

But in my rosy visualizations, I never pictured what owning a business is actually like — the unpredictable income, the necessity of playing almost ALL of the roles that would normally be divided among a team, the long days, the sense of responsibility for keeping it afloat.

I’m not going to lie. I have days where the weight of it gets to me, and in my exhaustion and frustration, I ask myself seriously, “Is this worth it?”

That’s a heavy question, isn’t it? How do you even go about answering that when there’s so much at stake and SO many convoluted feelings that go into it?

Well, I’ve found the BEST way to answer it, whether the thing in question is a job, relationship, or something slightly less serious.


The Shit Sandwich (which I’ll refer to from now on as the S.S. because I don’t feel like writing “shit” a hundred times in this blog) was first introduced to me by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Big Magic. She in turn got it from a popular blog by Mark Manson.

The concept, in a nutshell, goes like this:

Everything sucks, some of the time. That’s normal and completely to be expected.

Or, put another way … if you want something, you must be willing to take the bad along with the good:

  • If you want to be a traveling musician, you accept the S.S. of an often-chaotic life spent on the road.
  • If you want to be married, you accept the S.S. of seeing someone at his or her worst moments for the rest of your life.
  • If you want to be a medical doctor, you accept the S.S. of incredibly difficult course work, massive student loans, and 80+ hour workweeks for years.
  • If you want to be a parent, you accept the S.S. of sleepless nights, wet diapers, and complete meltdowns.
  • If you want to be a homeowner, you accept the S.S. of de-icing your heating unit in the middle of a blizzard, and paying for a new roof every 15 years.
  • If you want to be in great physical shape, you accept the S.S. of lifting weights and getting your heart pumping, even when you’re tired and don’t feel like it.


In Big Magic, Liz talks about a writer she once knew who used to complain about not getting his work published:

            “I don’t want to be sitting around,” he would moan. “I want this all to add up to something. I want this to become my job!”

            Even back then, I thought there was something off about his attitude.

            Mind you, I wasn’t being published, either, and I was hungry, too. I would’ve loved to have all the same stuff he wanted success, reward, affirmation. I was no stranger to disappointment and frustration. But I remember thinking that learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is part of the job.

            If you want to be an artist of any sort, it seemed to me, then handling your frustration is a fundamental aspect of the work perhaps the single most fundamental aspect of the work. Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process.

            The fun part (the part where it doesn’t feel like work at all) is when you’re actually creating something wonderful, and everything’s going great, and everyone loves it, and you’re flying high. But such instants are rare. You don’t just get to leap from bright moment to bright moment. How you manage yourself between those bright moments, when things aren’t going great, is a measure of how devoted you are to your vocation.”

It’s easy to imagine yourself blissfully following your passion. But when it comes down to it, a passionate life isn’t just about the golden, easy moments. It’s about what you’re willing to endure, sacrifice, and sweat through the S.S. moments to get to the good stuff.

twitter-bird Are you willing to eat the shit sandwich that comes with the things you most want in life?


In those times when I get frustrated, overwhelmed, defeated, and “over it,” this is the FIRST question I ask myself:

“Is eating this S.S. still worth it to get to do what I do?”

The answer has always been yes.

Sometimes that “yes” has come grudgingly. But in the end, there’s no other life I’d rather be living, and if eating the S.S. of being a business owner is what it takes to keep living this way, then I’ll keep doing it.

But I know plenty of people who can’t say yes when asked that question.

So, what if you aren’t sure eating the S.S. is actually worth it? What if you’re eating a S.S. for something that isn’t right for you?


Often, I find people who are trying to have their cake (or maybe we should replace that with “S.S.”) and eat it, too.

As in … they don’t like their situation, but all they want to do is complain about it rather than actually change anything:

“I want to be a homeowner, but I don’t want to deal with all of the maintenance.”

“I want to go back to grad school really badly, but I don’t want to take on more debt.”

“I want to switch jobs, but I don’t want to have to deal with explaining myself to everyone along the way.”

And so, caught between two things they don’t want to do, they just keep doing neither while complaining about both.


I only have two requests of you, if you’re contemplating whether your S.S. is worth eating:

  • Make a choice, with limited complaining. If you want to own your home, then you’ve either got to mow your lawn (and shut up about it), hire someone else to do it, or decide that home ownership isn’t worth it and move. And if you really want to go back to grad school, but don’t want to take on more debt, either accept the debt as part of the S.S. of getting a new education, or decide that more education isn’t worth it. But no more waffling, and no more whining.
  • Don’t judge yourself for not wanting to eat the S.S. If you don’t want to eat the S.S. that comes with whatever you’re contemplating — school, a job, a relationship, a home, having babies, whatever — that doesn’t make you weak, lazy, unworthy, or lacking in something vital. It just means that you don’t want it badly enough, and that’s allowed.

Do you realize how few things in your life you’re actually going to want to eat the S.S. for badly enough?

There’s only been one job — the one I have right now — that’s been worth it to me. I’m still looking for the romantic relationship that’s going to be worth it. I personally think having children will be worth it, but I understand why so many people don’t feel that way.

There’s nothing wrong with you if you decide it’s not worth it. That’s normal.

The only thing that would be “wrong” is if you kept doing something you knew wasn’t worth it, for fear of not finding what is worth it.

I’d love to hear what you think about the concept of shit sandwiches, in the comments!

Much Love,

Rachel (& Kristen)


Getting Over People Pleasing will be open for enrollment on Tuesday, August 20th!

  • This course will NOT be available 24/7. Right now, consider it a one-time thing. We may end up offering it again at some point, but likely not for another year.
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Bonus Book Club! Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (June 2018)

Dear Krachel: How do I say no without people hating me? (August 2019)


Mark Manson’s original blog about shit sandwiches

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14 Comments // ADD COMMENT


  • Bianca Robinson

    This was just what I needed to hear !!!!!!!!!!. Awesome post 🙂

  • Kathy Scott

    Love the inspiration it’s seems that I’ve been doing a lot of SS, however I just know it’s going to pay off.
    Please add me to your VIP list.

    Many Blessings

  • Stefanie Naden

    Love this! I was literally discussing shit sandwiches with a coworker yesterday! I also often think about the downsides to careers that are seemingly glamorous. Right now I’m loving my work schedule and coworkers, which makes the occasionally S.S. a lot easier to chew and swallow 😉

    • Rachel East

      I love the divine timing of you talking about this with someone just yesterday! Yeah, it totally makes the S.S. more edible when you’ve got a schedule you enjoy, and are surrounded by people you like working with!

  • Kathryn

    Right on… very thought provoking and inspirational… love your blogs!

  • Richard Morgana

    Great post and perfect length (not too long or too short). Very insightful comments. As I once read, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

  • Dronile

    I have never heard it describe as a “Shit sandwich” XD but I think this is so incredibly true! Every good comes with a bad, and every bad comes with a good. I’m getting much better at learning which S.S. moments I am willing to pursue, and which just aren’t worth it to me (or just aren’t right for me/the life I want). Great post!

    • Rachel East

      You’re so right! Nothing is ever 100% good or bad. And when we don’t expect things to ever be 100% one way or the other, it’s much easier for us to figure out what’s worth it.

  • Jen

    Ever since I first heard you guys mention the “s.s.” concept earlier this year, it has really stuck with me. I watched a Liz Gilbert interview where she talked about it, and just loved it. I have some very vivid and funny visualizations forever in my mind now from it.
    I like the perspective it lends, and it really helped reinforce those decisions to quit things over the years, now that I can point to it and identify that I just really didn’t want that s.s. so I walked away (from pursuing a higher degree, from a relationship, etc). And, for that matter, reflecting on the things I do now where I can accept it, like the workouts and extra hours practicing dance, because I know I love it enough that that s.s. is totally worth it!
    I especially appreciate this: “Don’t judge yourself for not wanting to eat the S.S.” – it’s nice to realize that I’m allowed to not want what I don’t want, it’s so easy to forget. I have judged myself, and fear judgment of others, about some of the choices I’ve made, so this is a constant work in progress.

    • Rachel East

      Hey Jen! Personally, I think you’ve gotten really good at evaluating whether the s.s. is worth eating! 😉 I’m glad you’ve been applying this to all aspects of your life … it really helps!