Fairly Actionable

I once met a man named Brian at a networking event. He was a relatively successful guy in the finance sector, but he lamented his position in life because he’d been at the same job, and pretty much the same pay scale for seven years. He said, “it isn’t fair.”

Curious, I asked him what he meant by “fair.” He told me “fair” would be if they rewarded him for his hard work and good results with a promotion. When I asked him what work he’d done to achieve a promotion specifically, Brian’s face went blank. It hadn’t occurred to him that he needed to do anything more beyond working hard and being good at his job to get ahead.

As a little networking gift, I challenged Brian to walk into his boss’ office the very next day and ask directly what he would need to do to get a promotion. I speculated to Brian that if he did all that his boss outlined, he would likely get a promotion within a few months. We exchanged information, shook hands and said good-bye.

A few months later, and out of the blue, I received an email from Brian thanking me for our short talk. He’d accomplished all that his boss had outlined, and he’d received a promotion to an executive role. But now, he was feeling really burnt out by all the extra work and longer hours he was having to put in. When I asked him why that was, he told me that it was only “fair” that he increase his work efforts to prove to his company that he deserved the promotion he’d received. In Brian’s mind, before and after his promotion, fairness equaled hard work and being good at his job.

As a society, we tend to lump together the concepts of fairness, justice, and getting what we want in life. But these are three different concepts, and often they are mutually exclusive. In Brian’s case — and in most situations I believe — fairness wasn’t the problem. Instead, it was his warped idea of fairness.

To Brian, “fairness” referred to a direct relationship between what automatically came to him and the amount of hard work he put in. But that subjective idea of fairness can’t work for all 7.4 billion of us on this planet at the same time. If life was “fair” for everyone, housing prices would never go up, massive layoffs would never occur, oil pipelines would never burst, wars would never be fought, poverty wouldn’t exist, and so on.

When we wait for our lives to be “fair” and reward us for our efforts, we often end up waiting a long time and get demoralized in the process. How many people do you know who put more energy into complaining that life isn’t fair than in doing something about it? Neither the past nor the future actually matters to any of us right now. It’s what we’re doing in any given present moment that makes waves in our lives and carries us down the paths we want to go.

Life works best when we take actions to get what we want, and then hold ourselves accountable to those actions — both the good things we do and the things we’re not so proud of. This does not mean work for work’s sake. I’m talking about a conscious effort to achieve the things in life we want, by being clear about what they are and honest about our current situations, and then developing a plan, building systems for accomplishing the plan, and — most important — going out and making it happen.

When you take action, you work within the flow of events around you. You capitalize on opportunities and learn from your mistakes. It’s when you actualize who you are, with honesty and authenticity, that life delivers the best results to you.

Take a moment and think about an aspect of your life you feel isn’t working out the way it “should.” Ask yourself: What actions have you taken to ensure that aspect of your life develops according to your desires? If you have taken actions, what’s worked and what hasn’t? If you’ve done nothing towards this goal, list out ten steps today that can be a working plan for you. Then cross off one of those steps this week.

“Great things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” — Abraham Lincoln (not really, but he’s the one whom everyone references — how fair is that?)

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