An Alternative to “Life’s Not Fair”

Day two without my computer and I am still crossing my fingers that it will work tomorrow after three days of airing out. Until then, I am still the imperfect cranky person who grumbles about how unfair life is. I literally just had my car stolen two months ago, shouldn’t I be exempt from expensive losses for awhile?!

I remember sitting in the car at thirteen, frustrated by the things I could not do. My older brother was starting college and got to go on all kinds of adventures while I had to keep doing chores and leave sleepovers early to go to church. My mom would repeat the phrase I never wanted to hear– “Life’s not fair.” She had the best intentions, trying to teach me to be realistic in my view of the world, but I still hated that phrase. I would roll my eyes, cross my arms, and be the epitome of a teenager who thought they could figure out a better theory on how to get what they wanted all the time.

Turns out, she was right. Sorry Mom.

Yes my car just got stolen, but the world isn’t controlled by a perfect balancing weight of good and bad luck. So it’s possible for more bad things to happen. And often, they come in multiples. The phrase “life’s not fair” is true simply because of all the things we can’t control. It also points to the mystery of a universe that is much bigger than we are, and a God who works in ways that are hard for us to understand.

Yet, there is still a problem with the way we use this phrase. I used to say it when I came to the point of giving up. I used it as a crutch for my fear of trying again and more potential failure. Life’s not fair, so I should just throw in the towel. There is nothing I can do, and it’s not worth trying. It was as if I believed that the unfairness of life meant that no one cared if I succeeded. And with no one on my side (I thought), I should just surrender. 

Plus, when I said “life’s not fair,” I was really just saying that life wasn’t fair according to my own simple standards. In a bigger picture, I have received more than what is “fair” in my life. I am blessed in ways that other people can’t even imagine, and so fairness is actually very relative. So not only was I giving up, but I was also taking for granted all the other things in my life that give me the ability to overcome any small amount of unfairness or bad fortune. 

There is a brilliant TED Talk called “Embracing the Near Win” by Sarah Lewis. She discusses the difference between success and mastery, and the doggedness of pursuing something intently without regard to single moments of success or failure. “Mastery is in the reaching, not the arriving,” she says. In fact, those who succeed in remarkable ways usually do so because they have missed the mark before, and were challenged to work even harder to reach their goals. In her words, “success motivates us, but a near-win can propel us in an ongoing quest,” and “we thrive not when we’ve done it all, but when we still have more to do.”

I began to wonder: what if instead of resolving defeat, I resolved an almost? What if instead of thinking no one was on my side, I believed in a God who cared deeply and was just as upset as I was that my car was stolen and water spilled all over my laptop? What if instead of giving up because “life’s not fair”, I decided that life being unfair was a good reason to keep trying and fighting for fairness in the things I could control?

Spilling water on my laptop forced me to reanalyze how and why I have challenged myself to write for 30 days. It required me to think practically about how I could get this done, even without the computer I was used to working on. Although at first I thought it was a sign of the universe not wanting me to write, I then wondered if perhaps God was just giving me something to write about. After all, if my life was perfect it would be a pretty boring story.


Indeed, life wouldn’t be worth living if it was perfect. If everything went the way we wanted, there would be no need for striving, for dreams, for hope and creativity. And when things do go wrong, it can help us remember all the things we still have that are more than good enough to help us succeed. The universe may be a giant unfair mystery, but fairness doesn’t determine our success or failure. Unfairness can challenge us to go beyond what we even imagined was possible, to surpass success and reach mastery instead. 

Thanks to my soaked laptop, I also discovered how to post on the blog through my iPhone. So I’m one step closer to blogging mastery. Take that unfairness!

When have you felt that life was unfair? How did you handle it?

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