Origin of this phrase
This proverb is widely believed to originate in the early twentieth century with Joseph P Kennedy, who was the father of the US president John F Kennedy. Joseph P Kennedy was a businessman and investor.
Meaning and Expansion
This proverb, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’, means that when a situation becomes difficult, those who are strong will really get involved. This strength could be bodily strength or it could be mental and spiritual strength.
Thus, this phrase means that, when life’s challenges appear, the people who are ready to meet those challenges will rise up and show themselves. The phrase suggests that sometimes one can only learn about people’s true strengths when they have difficulties to face.
‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’ relies on the double meanings of two words. ‘Going’ means ‘situation’ the first time that it is used in the sentence, and it means ‘active’ the second time that it is used. ‘Tough’ means ‘difficult’ the first time that it is used in the sentence and it means ‘strong people’ the second time that it is used. So, overall, the sentence means ‘when the situation gets difficult, strong people become active’.
A little more about this proverb. There is another, though much rarer, interpretation of the proverb. This is that the words ‘get going’ in fact mean ‘run away’. So, on this less popular interpretation, the proverb would mean: ‘when situations become difficult, supposedly strong people run away’. Here, the meaning of the proverb is the opposite to what it is usually meant to mean, because this alternative interpretation suggests that ‘tough’ people will reveal themselves to be cowardly and weak in difficult situations.
The importance of the proverb ‘when the going gets tough the tough get going’ is highlighted below:
1. Motivation: This phrase motivates us to meet life’s challenges.
2. Acknowledgement of true strength: The proverb reminds us to acknowledge how much strength it takes to deal with a difficult situation.
3. Hope: This proverb is very optimistic as it suggests that when life becomes hard, heroes will come to our rescue!
4. Solving problems: When we remember the words of this proverb, we remind ourselves not to stick our heads in the sand or to hide from difficult situations but rather to meet them head on.
5. Spurring others on to action: Citing this proverb to others can help us to spur them on to act and help us out in challenging times.
Whilst it may simply sound like a fun game with words, the proverb ‘when the going gets tough the tough get going’ is a great, positive quotation for getting people ready to meet life’s challenges. You never know how strong you can be until you have a challenge to face, so why not say this proverb to yourself when you have a difficult situation to deal with? Bearing the principle that ‘when the going gets tough the tough get going’ in mind will stimulate you to tap in to your inner reserves of mental or physical strength and make the world a better place. So, when the going gets tough: go for it!