“You gotta take the rough with the smooth” I tell myself as I walk through Kuala Lumpur airport about to board a connecting flight back home. Going home in March certainly felt pretty rough to me as I knew it was still cold, grey, and rainy back in the UK, and I had planned to not return until the shitty weather was over.

“If this is the rough then what is the smooth?” I ask myself, keen to focus on the positive aspects of my situation. After deciding that “the smooth” is that I will now get to experience the joy of leaving the UK again I realise that in that moment my whole interpretation of the saying “taking the rough with the smooth” had changed.

What does taking the rough with smooth mean?

People tend to say this in order to inspire acceptance when something undesirable has happened. It’s presented in a way that suggests that if anything positive happens to you (aka the smooth) then you must also experience something negative (aka the rough) as if there is some natural law at work balancing out the ups and downs of life.

But I don’t believe all that. Why would I want to live with the belief that anytime something good happens to me I must then brace myself for something bad inevitably happening? Sounds like a negative belief system to me. I also don’t like the idea of believing that after a rough ride I’m somehow destined for some nice smooth sailing because I don’t think life is that fair.

A new definition of taking the rough with the smooth

For me, “taking the rough with the smooth” is no longer about acceptance but about appreciating the importance of contrast in life. Consider my early flight home: having a taste of the rough British weather has allowed me to experience the joy of escaping to the sunshine again. Without the rough to provide some contrast, the smooth would have just felt normal.

So it’s true what they say, you have “gotta take the rough with the smooth” because if everything was smooth then smooth would just become the norm, and if everything was rough that would become the norm too. Perhaps I should reword this idiom to “You got to endure the rough in order to recognise the smooth”.?

Why adopt this new perspective of the saying?

Accept this new definition of “rough with the smooth” and when a so called rough event happens your position and attitude will change for the better. Holding the old meaning makes you a victim who has surrendered to their fate and unwillingly accepted an unwanted event. However, when you hold the new meaning and you become an optimist who welcomes enduring unpleasant events because he knows that doing so unlocks the good times.