“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.
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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.
We all know this, and yet very few people truly understand it — at a visceral level — and apply it to their everyday lives.
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.
If it’s time to turn your life around, here’s how you can get started right away:
- Learn how money works. Read about how to create value, earn more, spend your own money more effectively and invest in your future.
- 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.
- 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!