As a child, I felt so discouraged when things weren’t fair. Like a broken record, my mom would say to me “Toni, life isn’t fair”. It made my blood boil. As a kid, what I heard was “Whatever Toni. I don’t care, just get over it.” I felt silenced, I felt injustice, I felt resentful. I did not understand how she could so nonchalantly accept the unfairness of life. I was determined I was going to do something about the “unfairness” in life.
Young me had much learning to do, of course. It took me decades and loads of intense experiences to learn more about the important lesson behind the saying, “Life isn’t fair”.
You see, I grew up feeling like I was on the fringes. I didn’t fit into any socially categorized box. I was raised by pastors, and was therefore exposed to both frustrating hypocrisies and expected servitude and martyrdom.
I grew to believe that I was not deserving “as is”. My perception led me to believe that I could become deserving by serving others selflessly, because that would be “fair” for me and for them. I believed that if I always did for others, and worked really hard to do my best in everything, then it would be fair for others to notice that, and accept me as “deserving” or “good enough”. If I worked really hard, gave a whole lot, and was accepted as enough, then I would be happy and successful and the world would be a better place because I helped a lot of people.
It made sense to me that this would be fair. Fairness indicated deserving-ness in my eyes. I wanted to feel deserving, so I wanted to create fairness. When that didn’t happen, I questioned my deserving-ness and got stuck.
Heavy stuff for a kid, huh? This is what kids do though, they create stories to try to make sense of the world around them, and when there are gaps in understanding, they use what they’ve got to fill those gaps. So, that’s what I did.
I carried this belief system with me into adulthood, for many years. This type of belief cycle is common for the burnt out helpers and leaders that I work with. They work really hard to prove they’re worthy. They believe that it’d be fair for hard work to pay off in their best interest. They believe that they’ve given of themselves so much, that they don’t deserve to be treated poorly or to have to deal with traumatic or difficult circumstances. They ask, “What did I do to deserve this?” or “Why is this happening to me?” They get stuck in how unfair things seem, and start to believe the unfairness equates to undeserving, so they work harder to try to be more deserving in some way- to get things to be more fair. They live life on overdrive and they’re constantly over-functioning. They look at other people and compare themselves: “It’s not fair, I’ve worked so hard. What did I do to deserve this”?
But, life isn’t fair. Hard work does matter, but it doesn’t ensure fairness or deserving-ness in the grand scheme of things. Hard things do happen. Traumatic things do happen. Unfairness does happen. None of these facts translate into you or I not being deserving, or not being enough in anyway.
Not long ago, I found “unfairness” thoughts creeping up, similar to when I was younger. I thought things weren’t fair and it bothered me that people did or didn’t deserve what they were or weren’t seemingly getting in their life. I started to feel angry and resentful that I or someone else couldn’t make it fair. I personalized the unfairness and made it about me- my worth, my capabilities, my lack of XYZ. It quickly left me feeling stuck.
Fast forward past a litany of experiences, growth challenges and personal discovery, and I learned a fundamentally important shift that also helps other burnt out ambitious leaders and helpers: it’s not about fair.
I know that can sting, but hear me out. I don’t mean it in a way that discredits your desires, needs or worth. In fact, I say this to amplify the significance of your desires, needs and worth.
You see, as a kid, I believed the statement “Life isn’t fair” was a silencing statement. What I have learned is that it is does not need to be. I chose to re-frame my belief. Life isn’t fair actually highlights our power- it’s about my power; it is about your power.
Allow me to explain.
When you focus on what is not fair, you are indirectly stating that everything is based on deserving-ness. People either get what they deserve or they don’t- that would be fair, right? You and I logically know this isn’t really how life works though. It is not true that people always get what they “deserve”, and if it were true, who here on earth could really make an unbiased decision about that? Of course, it’s natural to want things to be fair and it’s human to try to sort out who deserves what- our legal system is generally based on this model. Our social systems, however, are for another blog post all together, so let’s focus on the general human experience for now.
Think about any good story you’ve read or movie you’ve watched. Hasn’t a really crappy or possibly traumatic event(s) happened to the “good” person in every single one? This is the premise of all Disney movies, isn’t it? It wasn’t about the protagonist living a life of fairness or deserving-ness, it was about how that person learned, moved and grew through the unfair circumstance. They harness their power of choice and inherent worthiness, to overcome the odds and to not let the unfairness dictate their destiny or worth.
It’s about how we as people chose to view the crappy situation, what meaning we give it, how we choose to show up in the midst of the shit-show, and how we choose to intentionally respond in order to move forward.
Movies and story-lines are just some examples, but they illustrate my point well. If any of us choose to stay focused on the lack of fairness, our inability to control it all, and then make it mean that we aren’t deserving, then we get burnt out and we stay burnt out. Our actions are less intentional and less powerful.
Life isn’t fair, and we can’t make it all be fair. Regardless, we are still worthy of love, safety, belonging and purpose. We still can choose to use our voice and harness our power of choice to do what we can, when we can, and SHOW UP!
So, it’s true that life isn’t fair. Now, however, I know and choose to believe that I didn’t deserve any of the crap that happened throughout my life. The challenges I overcame did not occur because I deserved to deal with the unfair circumstance. The horrible things my clients have navigated in their lives weren’t fair, and they now know that the lack of fairness had nothing to do with their deserving-ness.
We all do get to claim our power in deciding how to navigate the unfairness, what meaning to give the unfairness, and how we will behave in the midst of the unfairness.
If you decide your enough-ness or deserving-ness based off of the fair or unfair events that have happened in your life, you limit yourself and you limit the power you have inside of you to live fully, to stand in your individuality, and meaningfully share your gifts with the world.
The events that occur outside of you aren’t about your worth. They aren’t about what you do or don’t deserve. Your worth is inherent. You get to choose to believe that you are worthy of love and belonging (because you are), regardless of the unfair circumstance. You get to choose who you are going to be, how you are going to show up, and if and how you are going to learn, grow and move through the unfairness.
You get to decide. You do not have to stay silent. There is so much power in that.
If I kept believing that life should be fair, and that lack of fairness somehow meant I was or wasn’t deserving of something, I would have stayed feeling powerless. I would have stayed feeling like a victim controlled by the uncontrollables. I would have stayed stuck.
I truly believe that every person has gifts and purpose, but not everyone realizes them or harnesses them. What do you choose to believe? Will you harness and use your power?
Life isn’t fair… so what actions will you take? Who will you choose to be? How will you choose to show up? Will you allow yourself to learn and grow?
If you’d like further support with navigating how you perceive and manage unfairness in your life, and methods to effectively implement healthier habits that will serve you, don’t hesitate to reach out.
For therapy in PA: www.authenticallymepsychotherapy.com
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***Please note that coaching and therapy are not one in the same; they are separate services and the above mentioned are separate business entities. If you are unsure which service best fits your needs, simply reach out and ask: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Dr. Toni Warner, LCSW, MSW, MeD, is a transformational life & wellness coach for the ambitious seeking balance and a licensed psychotherapist in Pennsylvania. Dr. Toni is the founder of Dr. Toni Coaches, LLC, a coaching and consulting business. It’s mission is to inspire and enact positive change in the world by helping heart-centered impact makers and leaders to create balance, allowing them to more deeply and meaningfully live, love, connect and share their gifts, enhancing the lives of others. She is also the founder of Authentically Me Psychotherapy, LLC, where she supports high achieving and creative individuals who are struggling with anxiety, depression, burn out and disconnection, to get in touch with their core selves so they can live more fully and authentically aligned lives.