No, Life Isn’t Fair — But YOU Have the Ability to Turn Things Around. Here’s How.

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“If you start to think the problem is ‘out there,’ stop yourself. That thought is the problem.” — Stephen Covey

Life isn’t fair.

We’ve all heard it before. But somehow people continue to operate as though it is.

From an early age, we develop a deep-seated sense that things ought to be fair. Yet even as children, the definition of fairness is rather fluid.

Consider the following scenario: It’s a hot summer day and the ice cream truck arrives in a suburban neighborhood.

Mom buys Little Susie an ice cream cone. Johnny doesn’t have one, so he says, “It’s not fair.” Fairness, in this case, simply means that everybody should get the same thing.

Sighing, Mom buys Johnny an ice cream cone, too. Susie is incensed. “It’s not fair!” she yells. Now, fairness means something different. You see, Susie got all A’s on her report card, and this ice cream cone was her reward. She earned it. If Johnny gets one when he failed spelling, then it’s not really a reward at all.

Billy knows that he’ll never get A’s in school. And he’s always in trouble for his bad behavior. An ice cream cone is not in his future if he plays by the rules. So, he waits for Mom to go inside and then takes Little Susie’s ice cream cone from her. After all, he’s bigger, and it’s the only way he’ll get one. This definitely isn’t fair. But who’s going to stop him?

Meanwhile, the neighbor’s kid, Jackie, is watching all of this from the sidelines. She’s a good student and is always well-behaved. But her parents don’t have any money for ice cream cones. Is this fair?

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Point the Finger

The problem with these stories is that we don’t leave them behind when we grow up. Even as adults, a large percentage of the population maintains the over-developed sense of fairness inherent in children. Many look around them and decide who is to blame for their present circumstances.

Related: 9 Must-Read New Books to Help With Your Personal Finances

Some people believe in equality. Others believe in achievement. A few bullies just take what they want. And then there are those marginal folks who, truly by no fault of their own, are left on the outside looking in.

But what’s worse is the kaleidoscope spectacles through which these groups view themselves and the others. People who believe in equality tend to mistakenly view the “haves” of the world as the bullies and themselves as the innocent victims left out in the cold through no fault of their own. These are the people who assume that rich people are greedy and probably stole their money from someone else.

On the flip side, those who believe that you get out of life only what you put in tend to see everybody else as people who simply haven’t earned it. There is lots of judgment and little in the way of grace.

Both attitudes are toxic.

Who Said Life Is Fair?

I’m not going to argue about what actually is and isn’t fair. I can only tell you what I have found to be the more effective philosophy on the road to success.

The reality is, anytime you’re blaming someone else, expecting someone else to do something for you or feel you are owed something, you are in entitlement territory. And here’s the problem with entitlement: It’s easier just to earn it.

Why spend all of your energy trying to convince somebody that they have an obligation to give you something or to do something for you? Why waste time complaining about what other people have? You could spend the same time and energy actually adding value. And adding value is the primary way to achieve success — whether success to you is financial, social, or spiritual.

Words of Wisdom

In his book, Business Secrets from the Bible, Rabbi Daniel Lapin puts it like this:

“Life isn’t the only thing that isn’t fair. Nothing is fair. Because fair doesn’t exist. There are obligations. There are rules. There are systems. There is equitable distribution of goods and wages and services, but they are not distributed by any system of fairness. Goods and services are bought with money, and money must be earned. You don’t have any right to money. You must earn it” (257).

There is no adequate way to gauge the contribution that each person makes to their family, their community, their culture, their society, or the planet. Money, as imperfect a system as it is, is the best thing that we have available to deal with this. Doing things that add value result in the payment or creation of money.

Related: In the Game of Finance, Does Offense (Making Money) or Defense (Saving Money) Matter More?

We all know this, and yet very few people truly understand it — at a visceral level — and apply it to their everyday lives.

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Greed and Ambition

Most people believe that the pursuit of money is greedy. I have found that understanding how money truly works has made me more driven to add value. To my family. On my job. In my community. Around the world. I have changed. I am a different person. And the change is positive; presumably, the world is a better place since I still exist, but I now add more value.

The correct term is ambition. And ambition is the single most important trait you require to achieve your goals.

In the audiobook The Art of Successful Living, Jim Rohn draws the following distinction:

“Greed is the desire for gain at the expense of others. Ambition is the desire for gain in the service of others.”

The reality is that those with ambition will add more value. And the reward for value will often include money. Whether you believe that this is fair or not will largely determine how well you do within this system.

Wake Up to the Real World

If you have not yet achieved the level of success that you want for your life, don’t look outward; look inward. Forget the 1 percent. Forget what you think an ideal world should look like. Accept that you are the result of the decisions that you have made to this point in your life.

Then, open your eyes and look at the real world around you. This is the world in which you must succeed or fail. This is what you have been given to work with. Most of it is out of your control. The best thing that you can do to become successful is accept the tools that you have available to you and get to work.

When you get a chance to vote, vote your conscience. Speak up to defend your beliefs. But don’t for one second think that the whole world will change just because you think that something isn’t fair. Every day you have the opportunity to make the world — your world — a better place. But in order to change how the entire system works, you first need to succeed within that system. Only then will you have a seat at the table of change.

And if you have achieved success, be grateful. Remember that to judge someone without “walking a mile in their shoes” is arrogance. While nobody has the right to anything they didn’t earn, earning it doesn’t make you superior. Giving to those not doing as well as you — despite the fact that they do not have a claim to your money — helps to keep this in perspective.

It is everybody’s responsibility to protect each other from the bullies and look after those truly disadvantaged.

Take Action

If it’s time to turn your life around, here’s how you can get started right away:

  1. Learn how money works. Read about how to create value, earn more, spend your own money more effectively and invest in your future.
  2. Figure out how you can add more value. Do you need more training? Are there opportunities on your current job? Can you start a side business to help others with a problem that you see? Do you have some advantage that makes you better than anyone else at one thing? Use it. Determine to be self-determining.
  3. Get to work. All good things take time and energy. But if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. You must take action. Believe it or not, many of the successful people out there became successful by working toward it on evenings and weekends instead of watching TV and chilling out. It’s called hard work.

If your current plan isn’t working, get a new plan! It could change your life forever.

Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?

Let me know with a comment!

About Author

Brad Lohnes

In 2013 Brad awoke from lifelong financial slumber and took responsibility for his family’s financial future. His primary vehicle for wealth-building is buy-and-hold real estate. He is passionate about financial education and helping others learn the tools they need to take control of their money. Brad believes there is nothing more empowering than self-reliance.

17 Comments

  1. Edward Briley

    No, Life is not fair, it is very easy to lose, and very hard to win. I look at this way. I have lost many times in my life, but I only needed to succeed one time to make up for all of the losses.
    No one wants to fail, but the great thing about failure is the education you gain by doing so.
    If you start off is a winner in life, you will never know how happy you were when you were a loser.
    Life is odd and it is strange. The more you see, the more you believe. Even though many things you see are not believable.
    The best part of life is being at the bottom, simply because you have no other way to go than up.
    Maybe most of you do not know this. There has been many of person that started out is a garbage man, and now are millionaires. Many of those people will tell you the happiest days of their lives were when they were dumping garbage.
    I can tell you this by the amount of education I have had in my life. Success is not how large your bank account is, it is how you feel about yourself. You will find that you will be successful when someone ask you “How are you doing?” and your reply is “I am doing great”, and you really mean it.
    Remember this: There is only one thing on this earth that never goes away, and that is dirt. The more dirt you own the wealthier you are.

    • Brad Lohnes

      Hi, Edward. Interesting point of view. I agree that there’s lots to learn when you fail to achieve a goal. I don’t like to think of it as winning and losing but getting closer to your goals (or not). I think happiness and success lie in making progress toward goals – not only in achieving them. Thanks for your insight.

  2. Excellent analogy, Brad. Thanks for sharing!

    As an immigrant, I truly believe in all that you’ve said. Rely on no one else except yourself. There is no “luck.” There is only hard work, education, and creating opportunities for yourself. That’s the only “luck” there is.

    As a man hitting my forties, I’m starting to notice more and more of life, and more and more of the “entitlement” attitude of people in general that is holding them back. We all like to think that that attitude is only reserved for a certain group of people, but it’s all around us. From young people feeling entitled to a free education and medical care, to the “less fortunate” who feel entitled to what others have earned, to the factory workers who feel entitled to a job simply because of being American, etc. Too many of us are being held back by the belief that life should be more fair in whatever way we feel, and by our entitlement attitude.

    Work hard for what you want in life. Educated yourself. If somebody/the government throws you a bone, then it’s icing on the cake. It’s an extra. Don’t expect it and overly rely on it. (Of course, as you said, there are always people who are truly disadvantaged through no fault of their own, who will need a little more assistance than the rest of us.)

    Entitlement. It’s a terrible attitude. And, it’s everywhere. But, hopefully, we can educate ourselves with great articles like what you’ve posted.

    • Brad Lohnes

      Hi, John. thanks for sharing your story and your insights. I too am noticing things more as I get older as well and I completely agree. I forget who said it (it wasn’t me) but “luck is when preparation meets opportunity”. I like that. Thanks for reading.

  3. Peter Mckernan

    Hey Brad,

    This article speaks volumes! You did a great job along with adding in those quotes that tied it all together! It really does come down to adding value to people and their lives. To add value and bring blessings to them will create the success a person is searching for the whole time. It’s not the mentality of keeping everything to oneself, it is the process of giving it all away and eventually that free value given away will create success (i.e. by personal fulfillment, spiritual fulfillment, and/or financial fulfillment).

  4. Brenda Whittaker

    Sometimes it’s not just that we are not working hard. I haven’t watched TV in 8 years. I study all the time. But I can’t seem to put much of it to use. I study real estate and mindset and spirituality all day long. Yet still I have no business and little success. Its not just hard work and time, it’s work on the right thing in the right way. We tend to waste a lot of time reading the wrong advice or doing the wrong thing. We tend to stop at the first few NO’s of HML’s, the first realtor that says your project will never work. It’s an efficiency problem, more than a watching TV problem.

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