One of the most debilitating anchors for us in life can be the past. The heavy bags of our personal history can weigh us down if we let them, particularly if we choose to ruminate, sit and wallow in life’s inequities. Complaining that what has happened to us in the past is simply “not fair” can hold us back from becoming who we are meant to become.Let me share with you a sad story.
The Tragic Tale of Chris
Chris was a bright energetic baby boy. Adopted by a loving couple, Chris represented their hopes and dreams of having a family. Soon Chris was joined by a brother as the couple adopted a second child, growing their young family. Instantly, Chris had a built-in playmate. As the boys grew up together, they explored, played games, caused trouble and even got to raid their grandfather’s corner grocery store for candy from time to time. When Chris was twelve, his parents were blessed with an unexpected pregnancy and a third brother arrived on the scene. From day one, Chris’ youngest brother looked up to his two big brothers with awe and amazement. The two older brothers played with him as good big brothers do. Life was good.
Throughout his childhood, Chris was an active child. He eventually found his home in sports – particularly football. Chris could run with lightening quickness. Chris could tackle with a focused burst rarely seen. He was a natural. He loved the game and excelled with the hope of one day playing at a bigger level. On one fateful Saturday, this all changed. Chris landed awkwardly after a play and when the dust settled, Chris had broken his leg. He was in a cast for what seemed like an eternity. When the cast was finally removed, the doctors announced that Chris’ healthy leg had continued to grow but his injured leg had not. The once speedster now and forever would walk with a noticeable limp. His playing days were over. That event plummeted Chris into darkness. Perhaps it was the disappointment of not getting to play the sport he loved or perhaps it was the deeper pain of being put up for adoption by his birth parents, no one really knows. Chris turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with his disappointment and pain. In no time, he had picked up a criminal record and upon completion of high school, he opted not to attend college. With his addiction in full swing, Chris began the all-too-common gauntlet of rehab facilities. From North Carolina to Georgia to Florida, he stayed at and eventually left each and every facility he attended. After abandoning a rehab center in Florida, Chris hitch-hiked his way back to his family’s home. He lived with them for several months in hopes of resetting his life once again. But alas, he still couldn’t get past the deep anger and resentment he had for life, his life. Chris made the decision that life was unfair, the blows of the past were unjust and he was done. One Friday night he rode his motorcycle to a local creek, found a sturdy tree and hung himself. Chris was 23 years old.
Why do I tell you that tragic story? Very simple. I am the youngest brother in the story. Chris was my big brother that I looked up to with awe and amazement. When he chose to take his life, ironically he shaped my past and put something in my life that was “unfair.” I had a choice to make about my past and my life.
Getting Over the Past
What is true for each of is that we all have unfair events that have happened to us. From family dysfunction to personal tragedies, life can be unfair. It is up to each of us to decide what we choose to do as a result of life’s unfairness. We can sit in the past and complain that life did not give us what we deserved, that God did not give us what we deserved OR we can look for meaning in those past experiences. Every pain has the opportunity to shape us and give us purpose. I did not choose to have a brother kill himself. But what it taught me was that we always have a choice over the path we choose and that choice is ours alone. It also taught me that life is hard and that everyone is struggling with something. While it is each of our jobs to carry our own loads, we can help each other carry their burdens. In other words, there is no greater gift than to listen to and walk with someone who is hurting. I choose to do that at work, because frankly, we don’t have enough people walking with us as we take on the challenges of navigating our careers and dysfunctional workplaces. That’s my purpose and it came from life’s unfairness.
In the prior post, we chatted about the unpleasantness of viewing work as not fair. From blaming one’s boss to resenting how one’s career has turned out, complaining that work isn’t fair isn’t fun for the complainer nor for the audience. But what if it isn’t just work that’s your problem. What if it’s bigger? What if, in your mind, life isn’t fair?
“Life isn’t fair” – an interesting and debilitating dysfunction indeed. As I was noodling on this dysfunction while agonizing at the gym (amazing what pops into your head when you can feel your heart stopping on the treadmill), it hit me that this dysfunction differs by generation. How you perceive life is very much tied to both the stage of life you are in as well as the generation and culture in which you grew up. To that end, my apologies to our Eastern friends. As I take on this dysfunction, because of my own experiences growing up in the United States, I will be looking through the lenses of the Western world and the generations that are commonly present in U.S. workplaces today: the “Baby Boomer” generation, “Gen X,” and the “Millennial” generation. For context, consider the following population chart outlining the differing sizes of each generation (source: www.babyboomer-magazine.com)
Life Is Not Fair QUIZ – BOOMER EDITION
If you would classify yourself as a “Baby Boomer” (born between 1946 – 1964), your version of “life’s not fair” has its own particular flavor – “Cherry Garcia” might best sum it up given its reference to The Grateful Dead. The largest generation in terms of population, your generation grew up in a post-World War II era in which large families and traditional values were the norm. Having rebelled against those values in the late 1960’s as the “Woodstock generation,” your generation in many ways reclaimed and redefined many traditional values. As a generation, Boomers are particularly characterized by the values of hard work, loyalty, belonging, winning and prestige. Here is your quiz that, through your eyes, you may deem life today as not fair:
I resent that my profession is changing
I resent that after all of my hard work and sacrifice over the years, my employer has / may let me go
I resent that my loyalty and dedication means nothing to my employer – shouldn’t that count for something?
I resent that my retirement savings is not where I think it should be. Like real estate, I’ve always been told that investing was a “sure thing”
I resent that I put in so many hours over my career and didn’t spend more time with my family
I resent that my family doesn’t appreciate the sacrifices I’ve made
If those statements resonate with you, here’s your mini-prescription:
Redefine loyalty – Loyalty no longer means a mutual commitment by both parties to stick around – both personally and professionally (yes, I did say personally. Divorce rates among Boomers are encountering an unhealthy spike post-retirement). That’s an old-school definition of loyalty – just stick around. Today, loyalty means committing to mutually meet each other’s needs every day. Simply showing up won’t keep you employed or married. Bring your “A” game each and every time you get out of bed.
Redefine winning – Traditionally, winning was easy to define for Boomers: a big title and a bigger house. The prevalence of trophy homes among the Boomer generation is unparalleled by any generation prior or since. Today, your job is to redefine what success means to you. Create your own scorecard, not what others have suggested defines success. Titles get yanked and houses suck resources. What really matters to you?
Life Is Not Fair QUIZ – GEN X EDITION
If you would classify yourself as a “Gen X” (born between 1965 – 1981), like the Boomer generation, your version of “life’s not fair” has its own particular flavor – “rocky road” would best represent this generation given some of the societal challenges this generation faced. The smallest generation in terms of population, your generation enjoyed some of the highest divorce AND abortion rates in U.S. history as you were youngsters. Also referred to as the “latchkey kid” generation because of your parent’s propensity to leave you home alone, your generation is characterized by the values of independence, freedom, cynicism / mistrust of authority, giving back and work / life balance. If you are a Gen X-er, here is the “life isn’t fair” quiz just for you:
I resent the expectations of loyalty and sacrifice that is placed on me by my boss and work
I resent the special treatment that Millennials get at work. No one did any of that for me
I resent Boomers at work. They are slowing down my career path and are refusing to change or retire
I resent the expectations that my parents continue to place on me. Where were they when I needed them?
I resent the demands and expectations my kids place on me. They need to understand that my life is not all about meeting their needs
I resent the expectations my spouse has for me. I’m my own person with my own needs, goals and wants
If those statements resonate with you, here’s your mini-prescription:
Decide what you are committed to – One of the most admirable traits of Gen X-ers is their ability to commit to things bigger than themselves. Consider what it is that you truly want to commit to: your career, your marriage, your family, etc… and choose. The key to overcoming “life isn’t fair” for a Gen X-er is to know that you can choose to opt in to the things in life that matter to you. Make the choice, define who you are or want to be and stick to it. Don’t let “should’s” and “supposed to’s” weigh you down.
Compromise on needs – Clarifying what you expect from others (your boss, spouse, parents, children, etc…) AND have that conversation. Having a clarifying conversation can cure what ails a Gen X-er. Get clear on what you expect or need and be open to what others need and expect. “Redefining the rules on your terms” is music to an X-er’s ears. Just remember, don’t punish others simply because they have expectations of you. It’s not their fault that your expectations and needs are different.
Life Is Not Fair QUIZ – MILLENNIAL EDITION
If you would classify yourself as a “Millennial” (born between 1982 – 2004), like the generations prior, your version of “life’s not fair” has its own particular flavor – “rainbow sherbet” would best represent your generation given the sunny perspective your parents attempted to paint for you. The children of the Boomer generation, your generation is robust in size and has grown up with technology and information like no other prior generation. Also referred to as the “Echo Boomer” generation, your generation has been significantly colored by the values of your parents. The architecting that your parents put in place resulted in such phenomenons as: overscheduling and “play dates,” “helicopter parenting” and a sharp rise in anxiety and mood medications prescribed for you as children. In a nutshell, failure was not an option – neither to experience or to feel. That being said, your generation has risen above material things and is often characterized by the values of meaning, giving back, work / life balance, loyalty, immediate feedback and flexibility. If you are a Millennial, here is the “life isn’t fair” quiz just for you:
I resent the lack of structure, the lack of clear expectations and the poor organization at work
I resent the lack of feedback I get at work. I resent how disinterested my boss seems as it relates to me and my career
I resent the way Gen X-ers treat me at work. What did I ever do to them?
I resent the expectation that work is supposed to be my life. I don’t want to “pay my dues” like my parents did. Look what it got them
I resent that others aren’t giving me the opportunities that I know I’m ready for
I resent the pressure others place on me to “grow up.” I’ll marry and start a family at my own pace
If those statements resonate with you, here’s your mini-prescription:
Fail early and often – Your generation has a sparkle in their eye like no other. Knowing you are good, valued and special will serve you well as life progresses. However, as a generation, failure is an unfamiliar concept. As a result of the architecting of your parents, most Millennials don’t encounter failure until their early 20’s resulting in what some researchers have coined a “quarter-life crisis.” Your best strategy is to take as many risks as you can and fail early and often. With the experience of failure under your belt and surviving to tell the tale, you’ll proceed through life confident feeling as though you are “enough” regardless of the challenges life throws your way.
Get comfortable clarifying expectations – Like the Gen X generation, your ability to clearly articulate what you expect and need is critical to your short and long-term happiness. However, unlike the Gen X generation, you may need to be willing to compromise more frequently re: the expectations of others. Play the game and work and adjust… or not. If you decide that you prefer the flexibility and work / life balance that working as an outside contractor provides, then what are you waiting for? Go for it! And if you fail, you can check off the first prescription. No one said you have to play by other’s rules. Just don’t expect them to change for you.
Summing it up
Whether you are a Boomer, X-er or a Millennial, viewing life as “unfair” isn’t gonna get you very far. Work on your respective prescription and you’ll suddenly see yourself authoring life rather than turning up your nose at what it has offered you.
Are you or others in your life doing a little too much blaming and not taking enough ownership and responsibility? As mentioned in the previous post, this personal dysfunction is particularly nasty. It stops all progress in one’s life and can poison the relationships around that individual. After all, who wants to spend quality time with someone who alternates between complaining about the inequities in life and blaming you?
There are three Petri dishes in our life where “It’s not fair” resides, breeds and wreaks havoc: “Work,” “Home” and “The Past.” Over the next three posts I’m going to offer up a quiz for each and then a nice clean prescription to cure what ails you.
Work Is Not Fair QUIZ
Read each statement and give yourself a point for each statement you say “yes” to. At the end, tally up your points and see how you did.
I expect my boss to be responsible for my career path
I expect my boss to be promoting me in meetings when I’m not around
I expect my work product to be enough for me to get recognized at work
I resent that bosses throughout my career have generally treated me unfairly
I resent that some of my colleagues get better treatment than I do
I resent how I’m treated by coworkers at work
I resent the demands my boss places on me
I resent how my career has played out
I deserve more opportunities
I deserve more pay
I deserve a promotion
0-3 “Yes” answers = Normal gripes, complaints and misconceptions common at any workplace. You’re likely in the clear.
4-7 “Yes” answers = You are on the edge of slipping into that deep dark place we call “a lack of personal responsibility.” It will ultimately mean that all of your worse fears of unfairness will likely come true.
8-11 “Yes” answers = You’re there. I would describe your life as a series of daily disappointments, a cesspool of unmet expectations and resentment. A complete attitude overhaul is in order.
Note the sentence stems in the quiz above. Phrases like “I resent” and “I deserve” are great indicators that one is sitting back waiting and evaluating what life is dishing out. Such phrases are commonly used by editors not authors. Your workplace prescription is simple: author your career and life, don’t just edit what you are given.
Author your long-term career plan – the days are long, long gone (like 1950’s movies gone) when managers took a young promising professional and groomed him or her into a leader, rewarding and promoting them along the way. It is your job to identify what you want and where you want to go in your career. No one elses.
State what you need – if you want a raise, ask for it. If you want a promotion, ask for it. Only by asking can you determine if the organization will give you what you need or if you need to find another home.
Put blinders on – “What?” you say. “Brandon, are you crazy?” Here’s what I mean. If you are clear on what you want, what you need and where you are going, then it doesn’t really matter if your colleague gets picked over you for the promotion to Wichita – particularly if you have no interest in moving there (no offense to our Wichita friends). Focus on you and don’t worry about everyone else. This isn’t middle school… at least it’s not supposed to be.
Keep moving forward – always keep looking for other opportunities inside your organization AND outside your organization that will keep you moving down your career path. When we stop moving and creating, we begin editing and complaining. Keep moving.
There you have it. Your prescription for staving off the dysfunction of “it’s not fair.” As long as you keep moving forward and continue to author the story of your career and life, you will be a happy, empowered and dare I say “healthy” adult.
Or, then again, you can just choose to blame others. If you haven’t seen the Disney movie, “Meet the Robinsons,” you’re missing out. I think this clip sums up the choice in front of each of us quite well.
It was dinnertime at my house and like every night, it had begun. As the meals landed in front of their intended recipients, the cries of injustice began. My 8 year old, Noah was complaining that it wasn’t fair that his 11 year old sister, Abby, went back and got the final spoonful of rice from the stove. Abby was complaining that it wasn’t fair that Noah got his favorite meal twice in the same week. And Aaron, their 6 year old brother, complained that it wasn’t fair that he had to eat all of his dinner before he could be excused from the table. Eventually dinner came to an end and the cries died down. Unfortunately, it just so happened that on that particular night we had ice cream in the freezer. Upon its discovery, the finger pointed resumed its frantic pace. “Why does she get 2 scoops of ice cream?” “How come he gets the chocolate syrup first?” Etc…
It’s Not Fair
Hearing “it’s not fair,” is unfortunately a normal occurrence when you are surrounded by human beings under the age of 18. While I wish I could say that the only time I ever hear “it’s not fair” is at home with my kids, I cannot. We can all attest to hearing grown adults utter those painful words. From complaining about not getting a promotion at work to lamenting about how life has turned out, “It’s not fair” is a debilitating disease that if allowed to creep into one’s mind, it weakens resolve, sours the spirit and poisons one’s attitude.
This month, we are going to take on this self-limiting dysfunction. Taking an “it’s not fair” attitude holds us back from the life we could have. Whether it’s you that needs to change or it’s someone else, getting past “it’s not fair” unlocks two treasures everyone wants in life: opportunity and empowerment. It allows one to write his or her own personal scorecard for what’s important versus complaining about the one he or she is dealt. Before we go too far down this path, it’s only fair (no pun intended… o.k. maybe a small one) that I share my own personal philosophy on this particular dysfunction:
Life is NOT fair – I’m sorry you aren’t Donald Trump, Beyonce, or a member of the Royal Couple (if you are, welcome to my blog! Send me a note. We’ll do lunch.). Get real.
“It’s not fair” is about complaining and critiquing what life has sent you from the kitchen. Life rewards authors, not editors. Get cooking and creating, not complaining and editing.
“It’s not fair” is about waiting, sitting and receiving. It’s not about moving, exploring and doing. Get moving.
“It’s not fair” assumes someone else has all of the cards and I must sit and accept what I am dealt. Get empowered.
Life can be wonderful. Regardless of the circumstances someone faces in life, with a healthy daily dose of personal responsibility, empowerment and appreciation, life can be a daily gift. Get appreciating.
So you have a job you don’t like? Leave it. You are unhappy with the path you chose? Change it. I have a mantra in my house that my kids know all too well. “Decision-makers pay.” If one of them begins to complain about dinner, I announce to the table that that particular offspring of mine has decided to pay for dinner. It is a not-so-subtle reminder to them that complaining cannot be served up without a side of action and ownership. They have to choose: stop complaining or change the meal any way they like by forking over the cash.
The choice for us this month is simple:
Accept and appreciate what we have or take action to change it. Either path is healthy and empowering. Complaining about life’s unfairness is not an option.
Trust me, there is plenty of ice cream for everyone.