When Life Hands You Lemons, Research Them!

Enter the Lemons

Somehow, in the course of my busy life, I realized that things are not going according to my plans. Not that I generally plan for the long-term, which is a complication (read character flaw) that is far too boring to get into. However, when things are not quite turning out, I always think of the saying “When life gives you lemons”… While one can end this any way they see fit, a common conclusion is “make lemonade.”

So, where exactly did this saying come from? Many attribute this quote to Dale Carnegie, whose variation appeared in his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, published in 1936. The book received revisions throughout the years, in nearly every decade from what I can see, and translations exist in several languages. This is clearly a popular book! Carnegie references, multiple times, the idea of “hav[ing] a lemon and making lemonade” or “turn[ing] our lemons into lemonade.” In chapter 17, incidentally named “If You Have A Lemon, Make A Lemonade,” Carnegie says he learned of the saying from Chancellor Robert Maynard Hutchins of the University of Chicago, who attributes the saying to Julius Rosenwald (Carnegie, 1958, para.1). As with all anecdotes, the source is not entirely reliable. However, it makes for a fantastic story.

Although not quite as brief a saying, Elbert Hubbard’s variation appeared even earlier, in a 1915 publication, The Fra: A Journal of Affirmation. “He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade-stand” (Hubbard, 1915, p. viii). With this phrase, Hubbard gives an eloquent tribute (The King of Jesters) to the recently departed Marshall Pinckney Wilder, who overcame physical disability to become an American entertainer, well known for his wit and humor.

While there are likely numerous variations on the saying, some predating the 20th century, these are the most widely accepted. Regardless of the wording, the sentiment remains the same. One should strive to overcome adversity, make the sour into the sweet, and sit on the porch with a nice cool glass of summertime. Therefore, that is what I am going to do!

References and Additional Reading:
Carnegie, D. (1958). How To Stop Worrying and Start Living. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hubbard, E. (1915). The King of Jesters. In E. Hubbard, The Fra: A Journal of Affirmation (Vol. 14, p. viii). East Aurora, NY: Elbert Hubbard.

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