People tend to make excuses to avoid work or hardship, a phenomenon that I call the Excuse Demon. One of the most common excuses is “it’s not fair!” The instinctive response is then to quit, or at least postpone, the effort. I found myself doing this the other day when I grew frustrated at a $1,200 project I’d been working on for the past two weeks. I was on the verge of making an emotional decision, but got hold of myself and realized something – not everything you do is going to be fair.
Even if the people you’re working with do treat you fairly, the universe finds ways to tilt the playing field and try to cheat you out of victory, all on its own. Nothing ever seems to be truly fair. In this case, the unfairness came with the source of my project being seemingly too long to put into the reworked boundaries that my client wanted.
Thankfully, I just grit my teeth and took it. Through the work I discovered that there were many redundancies in my source which could be eliminated. Then I eliminated even more redundancies and tangents to get my project into the desired confines. It sounds simple enough, but it was a long, tedious road. The work of creating the content itself wasn’t difficult, but the paring down and going through the long source was. Thankfully, I avoided making the emotional decision about complaining or causing trouble too early, and got a nice payday as a result.
The source was really too long for the project to be done in the highest quality. That was the universe’s way of being unfair. However, time, action, and the “aid of heaven” provided a solution, as Louis XIV would say. Was it unfair? Yeah. Getting mad about it is an excuse, though.
He who endures the most unfairness is the one that’s going to win.
One of the most enduring themes that Homer provides in his epic tales is that bad things happen to good people. No matter how good you are, the universe will get you anyway. It’s how you deal with it that matters. Odysseus is obviously the greatest example of this, but in Achilles’ famous conversation with Priam at the end of the Iliad, he mentions this truth:
There are two great jars that stand on the floor of Zeus’s halls and hold his gifts, our miseries one, the other blessings. When Zeus who loves the lightning mixes gifts for a man, now he meets with misfortune, now good times in turn. When Zeus dispenses gifts from the jar of sorrows only, he makes a man an outcast – brutal, ravenous hunger drives him down the face of the shining earth, walking far and wide, cursed by gods and men.
Then there are other times, Achilles says to Priam, where Zeus sometimes gives evil mixed with good.
This all stems from the death of Hector, who did nothing wrong, but was forced to defend Troy because of the misdeeds of his brother. What he got for it was death for himself and all his people.
Point being, you’re not interested in bad things, but bad things are interested in you. Sometimes, you’re totally at their mercy. Other times, you just have to suck it up and endure. Small things, big things, they all come without you asking. You might have a client whose lack of awareness on the particulars of a project causes you headaches. You might be out with a girl and something completely out of your control ruins what should have been a slam dunk. You might even be faced with a war.
Winners have to endure and adapt. This is actually one of the biggest principles of Navy SEAL training – can the cadets (or “tadpoles,” as they’re called) endure and accept such unfairness and injustice and still move forward? Too many can’t. Too many ring the bell and give up because they can’t deal with the unfairness.
While most people don’t face such grueling circumstances, the same rule applies – he who endures the most unfairness, the most injustice, and the most pain, wins.
Sure, this whole thing sounds cliche, but I don’t think many people realize just how deeply ingrained the instinct is to quit at the first sign of unfairness. Maybe it’s just our culture, or maybe it’s something deeper, but one needs to be constantly aware of the prevalence of unfairness or inevitably, you’ll make emotional decisions, which will harm you more than the unfairness you encounter. Be aware of this cognitive bias of sorts. Remind yourself of it and you’ll be better off. From there, develop a better system to overcome the problems the universe throws at you.