Life Isn’t Fair: So Why Play by the Rules?

life isn't fair“Life isn’t fair” I remember this refrain being seared in my consciousness early on in life. It’s a bitter-sweet memory because I can still taste the knot of staunch injustice that gathered in the back of my throat when my mother would dish it out; at the same time, I’m grateful that the inequality of life was shown to me at a young age because I learned a valuable lesson that many adults I know seem to still have not learned.

Life isn’t freaking fair.

Now that you know, deal with it. You can bitch and moan. You can try and make the best of the cards you are dealt… or you strive to become the dealer. Your situation may be righteously unfair – but dwelling on that fact won’t move your situation one iota in a fairer direction.

Instead, embrace the fact that life isn’t fair. When you do your eyes will open to a world of possibilities, one that much population misses while they focus on the injustice of their situation.

Life isn’t fair, so why play by the rules?

You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight and you don’t expect to win at a table where the dealer’s cheating. The “fairness” that people so often talk about is the idea that if you go to school and make decent grades you should be able to graduate, get a good job and earn fair wages. It’s the idea that if you worked 15 years for a company they should keep you around for the next 15 years. Don’t get me wrong, I love that notion, the idea of fairness but it is simple not a reality anymore.

This ideal situation would work perfectly in a world before Eve bit the apple or before the rules of “the American dream” were drastically rewritten. The biggest disservice you can do a child is to make them believe the lie that life is fair; that if they play by the rules, their future is secure. This simply is not true.

Instead, take inventory of the “rules” that the unfair game of life has set for you, for us. Examine each and every one, many won’t make sense. These may be the rules that you need to bend, break or simply replace. One rule I broke was “dropping out” of college one class shy of graduation.

I dropped out because I wanted to plunge into my first business full-time and I didn’t want to spend another 6 months wrapping up a Spanish course that would allow  me to graduate with a humanities degree that in reality would have gotten me nowhere.

So I quit. People said I was nuts, my parents weren’t uber pleased, but I failed to see the logic in getting a degree that would amount to nothing but a piece of paper taking up room in my filing cabinet. I had always known I was going to work for myself, this just ensured it.

You’re either the captain, or you’re the crew.

My grandfather’s favorite poem is Invictus which goes like this:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

This poem speaks to the fierce independence and drive that few possess but most admire (often after the fact). This rare quality is only owned by people who not only know life isn’t fair, but people who are okay with it – because they know they’re not bigger than the universe.

Not everyone can be a master of their own ship, lots of people want to be passengers and there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ve just got to pick your position, then stop complaining and enjoy the ride.

I find your definition of ‘fair’ unfair.

Maybe the world isn’t “unfair”. Maybe our definition of “fair” is simply wrong. Maybe it’s been warped from too many fairy tales and participation ribbons given for dismal performance. Maybe the world isn’t fair or unfair, maybe it just is… I like to think of this in terms of Tao:

  • Duality. Lao Tzu pointed out that all qualities in the world possess meaning only by the existence of their opposites. Something can only be big if there is something else that is small by comparison. “Good” exists in the world so long as “evil” exists as well. One cannot do without the other. — what is Tao?

So no more complaining about life being unfair. Instead, go out there and do something about it. You can try to make it fair or fight for justice, especially on the side of those who can’t fight for themselves. There are few things more honorable helping the helpless. Or, you can rewrite the rules of the unfair life you’re experiencing. Quit your job, start a business, take on a challenging project, stand up and make people listen… especially when they want you to sit down.

Life will always be unfair, there is nothing we can do to stop that, the Universe is simply too big and every human possesses their own free will. So instead try and make the lives you touch better, fairer, happier. Enjoy your life and help others enjoy theirs. Be a good captain of your own ship, and bring others on board and take them to the new world with you.

The people who aren’t afraid of braving our current, highly unfair, world are the ones who will shape it in the years to come.