The world is full of toys. My daughter just learned this fact. Yesterday, she grabbed my phone and started playing with the screen. She burst into tears when I had to take it away from her. It was the first time she’d ever looked at me with that mix of hurt and scorn. But she bounced back in minutes— found something else to play with.
The moment reminded me of a relentless truth about goals and desires. This is going to happen to her a thousand times, and it’s only going to get harder to deal with each season of her life.
She’s going to fall in love with something — or someone. Someone else is going to take it away from her.
And not for her own good.
It’s going to break her heart. Just like it does yours, mine, or anyone’s. As you get older, having things taken away from your hurts more, not less. But we also get better at dealing with the pain.
Or some of us do anyway.
We have to become resilient. That means learning how to recover from those razor blade moments, the ones that cut so deep, and find something else to play with. The longer we agonize over unfairness, the more we amplify the damage already done.
A glitch in space time can always eradicate your triumph in the making. You lose just when you thought you were winning, without any warning, and without any good explanation.
That’s the worst kind of defeat. My daughter’s already gone through this, and she can’t even speak yet.
The cycle will never end…
She’s going to get nominated for awards and tapped for promotions, which wind up going to someone who kissed a little more cheek.
She’s going to play nice, following all the rules, and it’s not going to matter. Someone’s going to change the game at the last minute and beat her. They’re going to put her little thimble on Park Place when she’s not looking, and tell her she owes them five thousand dollars. They’re going to use a family connection to swipe a job that she was qualified for.
Someone’s going to take credit for her ideas.
Someone’s going to shout her down in a meeting, when she offers facts that contradict their authority.
Or they’ll try.
Some boss is going to invite her for coffee at 8 am to “thank her for all that she does,” when in truth he merely wants her to make him feel like he’s a good leader who shows appreciation.
The same boss is going to ignore her emails.
He’s going to “ask” her to take on extra work, using a preemptive thank you that scours her nerves.
Her coworkers are going to tell her she works too hard, and then they’re going to ask her to do more.
They’re going to promise her a computer. But it’s going to take six months to deliver. Meanwhile, she’ll buy one with her credit card. She’ll tell herself not to get angry. She won’t voice her frustration. She won’t say anything that someone could interpret as negative. It will feel unfair. All of it. And yet, she will press on. She will find other, better toys.
Winning takes everything you’ve got — and then some. You have to find levels of endurance you didn’t know you had. You have to hug it out with the most intractable kinds of unfairness.
You can’t do anything about some forms of unfairness.
Standing up for yourself doesn’t help. Everyone always says that. But they never mean stand up to them.
They say make a fuss. But they say that because they know you won’t, and probably can’t. Only the pretty faces in movies get away with that kind of behavior. The rest of us?
We get escorted from the building.
We turn toxic green in everyone else’s eyes, even if they pretend to support us. You’ve seen it. If you get to the point where you feel like the only way is to break something, then I have some advice.
Walk away. It’s not worth the shatter, or the fallout.
Find another sandbox to play in. Or give yourself a timeout, and come back later — when you’re ready to build a new castle. Build a stronger one. A badass one. The kind only you can build. I’m saying this, in fact, after a computer glitch deleted my earlier version of this post. After sulking, I told my spouse something: “Maybe the universe was telling me to start over. Start from scratch…” So I did. And I like this version better. The universe is mean, but sometimes it’s nice — but in a mean way.
This week I came across a fantastic tweet. It said something along these lines: If you don’t get what you want, it’s because you deserve something better. Even if that’s not always true, it is sometimes.
It’s true often enough to believe.
Dwelling on unfairness doesn’t make much sense, regardless of the details. You can’t prove unfairness actually exists on a personal level. You can only suspect it does. And raving about suspected unfairness just makes us sound arrogant, spoiled, and a little unhinged.
It doesn’t matter if you’re right, I’ve noticed. Anyone who has less than you doesn’t want to hear about it.
Think about the last time you listened to someone’s personal tour in their private museum of unfairness.
Maybe you agreed with them.
But you also felt the slightest sprinkle of sympathy — not because they got screwed over, but because they couldn’t get over it. They couldn’t move on. They curated their unfairness and put it on display. The exhibits stand empty, with placards that read, “If life had gone my way, Thing X would be here.” They couldn’t learn to enjoy any other toys. They stroll the empty rooms, longing for their beloved race car.
You can spend hours a day chronicling and cataloguing every potential unfairness and injustice done unto you. But you can also focus on getting better and better at what you do. Get so good, so adaptable, that fairness no longer plays such a starring role in your success.
Fairness works in mysterious ways. There’s fairness on the social and political scale, the idea that everyone deserves the same basic rights and opportunities. Most of us agree on that, even as we struggle to make it a reality for everyone.
Then there’s the matter of you as an individual.
You don’t always know when real unfairness ends, and perceived unfairness takes flight — the notion that somehow all the canons are targeting your little spaceship. As if the universe squeals at the very sight of you and starts shouting kill it, kill it, kill it.
Maybe you really are the unwanted pest in someone’s bathroom.
And they just want you gone.
You are the smartest, prettiest, most talented little irritant, flying a tiny spaceship through a cosmic storage closet.
Someone will always think themselves better than you.
Someone will always think you have no right to exist in their little corner of the nebula. Here’s a little trick you can do when you suspect that maybe you’re flying blind in a cloud of unfairness.
Assume it’s all true.
Also, assume that anyone who cares can’t actually do anything to change it. They’re just like you. Little pests, searching for a home.
After all, everyone faces unfairness at some point. Maybe someone out there doesn’t want you to succeed, and they’re doing everything they can to stop you. But you’ll never find out who that person is, or why they’ve got such a boner for watching you fail.
You’ll never convince this alleged person or group to accept you and get out of your way. That’s not how unfairness works. Unfairness has one job — to get in your way. There’s no point in getting angry at something that does exactly what it was designed for— stopping you. Getting angry is, in fact, exactly what an unfair person would want you to do.
Unfairness is a knot you can’t unravel. Don’t waste your time even trying. Instead, find other ways to get what you’re after.
Sometimes, the right people won’t appreciate you.
Someone in the perfect position to help won’t even lift a finger. Maybe they even see your talent or intelligence. They just don’t like you.
Sorry about that.
You can’t do anything about personal unfairness — perceived or real. All you can do is choose to keep playing.
Every day, we drag our little toy tools to the beach and try to make a sand castle. But nature doesn’t want you to make sand castles. Some humans live to knock down everyone else’s walls and towers. Every night, the tide is going to eat up your little masterpiece.
Doesn’t sound very fair, does it?
The ocean doesn’t care, and neither do the meanies. But if you’re into making sand castles, you don’t care either. You’ll keep making them, bigger and stronger each time. You’ll take a photo to remember them. You like sculpting sand. So go sculpt some.