The “Life’s Like That” Syndrome

Recently there’s been a really popular song by a certain artist called James Bay. Hold back the river is its title, and at the start of the song the lines go like this: try to keep you close to me / but life got in between.

It’s melodic, somber and touching. But upon closer listening, what in the world is it trying to say? What in the world does “life got in between” even mean?

Sure, this is a phrase we use all the time, and it comes in many variations. We have the typical “life’s like that”, or “c’est la vie” as the French call it. There’s the more Singaporeanised version of ” that’s just life lor” to even the absurd “it’s like that”. 


What in the world are we trying to say? Every time we encounter some problem that seems to be out of our control we start blaming the all encompassing concept of “life” and “the universe”. Sure, it makes us feel better, that we’re all in some common struggle. But what are we actually trying to do here?

Back in JC my friend and I were shoving each other around and one of us knocked down my teachers laptop off the table. This foolish act displaced the screen of the laptop from its frame and it was permanently damaged. We each had to pay a few hundred dollars for the repairs and the teacher in question got really cross with us.

My form teacher was really nice and pointed out to my friend and I that “that’s just how it is”, that this kind of thing just happens now and then through your life and you just have to suck it up and deal with the consequences! At that time, I must admit, it was comforting to hear.

But I was just a JC kid then and a few hundred dollars was quite a shock to me. I think to calm us down warrented the use of all-encompassing gemeralities. However, I believe the blaming of “life” and “the universe” becomes a problem when people start doing it all the time regardless of individual circumstance.

And we see it so much! In pop songs , in tragic break ups, when teachers console their students, when friends console each other. “Life will do things to you”, “eh bro that’s just life”, “look ah this circle is your life and this dot in the middle, it’s you!” Amazing how many variations of the same meaning you can come up with to justify every mistake or unfortunate event that befalls.

Here’s what I think. I believe that we, as people are horribly ill equipped when it comes to dealing with our own mistakes and facing consequences. No, I’m serious. I believe we are the ultimate pathogens of the “that’s life” syndrome.

I (and perhaps we) tend to shift all the blame and all the screw ups to the large dartboard that is life and the universe. I know it’s quite effective, for if you tell people this, they’ll be fooled and think to themselves, oh yeah everyone makes mistakes so it’s ok if you make mistakes as well. But all things aside, how does it make the mistakes any more acceptable? It’s like killing someone and in your defence you tell the judge “but people die all the time”.

That granted, some unfortunate circumstances are totally beyond your control. If you walk down the street and a bird releases it’s poop on you or if an airplane crashes on your house and kills everyone, you would definitely blame the universe. Go ahead, the universe is at fault and is there for you to blame. In a sense that’s what life insurance is for, unforseen circumstamces when the universe steps in. And it makes sense, because you had NO control over any of this.

However, if you are late for a meeting, cheated on your not so significant other or threw too many smoke grenades at your recruit who later dies of an allergic reaction, don’t even begin to search for excuses. If you screw up in any way that you had some control over, don’t for one minute blame it on life or the universe.

You only have yourself to blame.

(image courtesy of

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