Life is not Fair


Excerpt from the future book “Leadership in Black and White”

      The harsh reality of “life is not fair” has been the Achilles heel of many leaders.  For some leaders it eats away at their very soul.  On Wednesday June 2, 2010 there was a Major League Baseball game played between the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers.  A twenty-eight year old right-handed pitcher from Venezuela named Armando Antonio Galarraga pitched a complete game for Detroit allowing only one hit on the night and walking none.  This game may sound relatively insignificant but for two people in that game it was definitely something they will remember for the rest of their lives.

     With two outs in the ninth inning Galarraga had pitched a perfect game: no runs, no hits, no walks and no errors. Jason Donald of Cleveland hit a ground ball to first baseman Miguel Cabrera who tossed the ball back to Galarraga who was covering first base.  The first base umpire Jim Joyce, one of the most respected umpire’s in the Major Leagues, emphatically yelled, “Safe!”  That ended the perfect game and a chance for Galarraga to become a part of baseball history.  Galarraga grinned, returned to the mound and proceeded to get the next batter out for a very respectable one hit shut-out. 

           I watched the replay of Donald’s infield hit over and over.  Each time I hoped the outcome would be different.  Sadly, the replay clearly showed that Donald should have been called out and that the umpire Joyce had missed the call. Joyce’s mistake cost Galarraga his chance at baseball immortality. 

       Unlike most baseball fans who were both enraged and appalled at the egregious blunder by the umpire, my heart went out to him.  I cringed each time I watched the replay.  I hated that it could not be changed.  I felt bad for what Joyce was going through.  I have been in a similar situation where my mistake cost a team the game.  When you realize your mistake, you hate yourself for what you did.  It is maddening and then depressing.  It makes you nauseous to think about it.  For some officials, it marks the beginning of the end of their career because they cannot shake the fear of ever making another mistake. 

       On the other hand, I hated that Galarraga did not get his “Perfect Game.”  He missed going into the record books.  He missed his opportunity to go on the David Letterman Show, and for a pitcher that had not had an illustrious career, he missed what may have been his one shining moment.  It was an injustice.  In fact it was just plain unfair. 

       Leaders must come to grips with the harsh reality that life is not fair.  Unfortunately, good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people.  I have listened to basketball officials bemoan about how it is so unfair that people with less ability and experience get better games or how officiating supervisors are biased against certain races, or people below a certain height or people from a particular state.  I have listened to salespeople lament about another salesperson that if they had a better territory like him or a large client like her they would be just as successful.  I have heard just about every excuse a person can create and spouted a few myself about why I am not a better parent, spouse, employee, Leader, official, salesperson or Christian.  The self-pity usually ends with, “if I had the same opportunity as that person then things would be different…”

       Another issue with fairness is that it is subjective.  Recently I listened as officials discussed the unfairness that an official who had been late to a small college play-off game continued to receive more play-off games from our supervisor.  All of the officials agreed that it was unfair.  I had a different perspective.  This official had refereed fifty or more games that year with most considered less than the “premier” games, had driven thousands of miles across Texas and Oklahoma and through it all always maintained a positive attitude.  Being late had never been an issue with this official in the past, so it was an isolated incident.  He made one mistake, so I felt he deserved the play-off games, and he deserved the benefit of the doubt for his tardiness.  People view fairness differently so what is fair to one person may be unfair to another. 

       So you may be asking, “What do I do about it?”  The answer is simple but the application is extremely difficult.  A great Leader:

  •  Devotes himself or herself to overcoming his own or his team’s obstacles, barriers and detractors
  •  Accepts total responsibility for his/her and his/her team’s current situation.
  • Only concerns themselves with the one thing that he or she has complete control over, themselves.
  • Focuses solely on reaching their full potential and helping their team reach their full potential and does not waste valuable time comparing themselves others.

       Our society especially in sports has a win at all cost mentality and anything short of winning is failure.  I subscribe to John Wooden’s philosophy that the key to leadership is helping yourself and others reach their full potential.  In his book Wooden on Leadership, Wooden states, “Set your standards high, namely, do the absolute best of which you are capable.  Focus on running the race rather than winning it.  Do those things necessary to bring forth your personal best and don’t lose sleep worrying about the competition.  Let the competition lose sleep worrying about you.  Teach your organization to do the same.”

       If after the competition is over you can honestly say, “I did my absolute very best and gave it everything I had,” then you have achieved success even if you were not the top salesperson, a playoff official or the winning team.  Then, you can reevaluate, set new goals, develop and train yourself more to increase your ability and your potential.     

       The great challenge for all Leaders is to focus on our own struggles and look for our own opportunities and never get caught up in other people’s luck and good fortune.  Even harder for a Leader is to genuinely be happy for other’s success even when it seems they had it “easy.”  

       Wherever you are in your life right now, there is someone doing better than you, catching more breaks, and falling into better opportunities.  Wherever you are in your life right now, there is someone doing worse than you, catching less breaks, and missing more opportunities.  Don’t be a slave to this world’s lack of fairness.  Life may be unfair, but You are still the Master of Your Own Destiny. 

    “In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.”  Lee Iacocca

“Again I looked throughout the earth and saw that the swiftest person does not always win the race, nor the strongest man the battle, and that wise men are often poor, and skillful men are not necessarily famous.”  Ecclesiastes 9:11. The Living Bible

© 2010 Dennis Howard


18 Responses to “Life is not Fair”

  1. 1 Todd Wilson

    Very nice article. Taking the baseball analogy a little further. You only have to be successful in baseball about 33% of the time to be considered an MVP. Hank Aaron was only successful in what he did 30.5% of the time and only about 6% of his hits were home runs. I don’t think that many of us would have a job too long if we had that kind of success rate, but Hank Aaron is considered one of the greatest baseball players of all-time. So when I have set backs in my life I think to myself that as long as I am still in the game I have a chance to hit for average and at some point I might even hit a home run which is what I think all of us would like to be known as. A home-run hitter for our team.

  2. 2 ewa formela

    I try to teach my daughter to do absolute very best and gave everything she can, even if she will not win. It is more important to stay in the race to the end that just win it. I don’t like the “loser” philosophy, when we value only winners and don’t respect the rest. It is not important if you will be first or last. It is important how much work, time did you put in. And what did you learn ffom this experience.
    Life was never fair but I think that we can learn and take something good from every situation. I belive in God and this is what Bible teaches us. Take from every expierience something good, what you can apply in the future to another situation but you grow, and get stronger, and that is how you can achieve more.

  3. 3 Yvonne Henderson

    I think this is a great article. Life is not fair; yes this is a true statement. If everyone was afforded the same opportunity where would the diversity be, how would you know what it felt like to achieve, and would people actually know what sacrifice was. “You have control of your own destiny.” I feel that everyone should live by that because no matter where you come from you get to choose where you’re going. A lot of people blame lack of money for their failure, well there are a lot of people who didn’t have much money that was successful example: LaBron James he used his skill and will to achieve, Oprah Winfrey overcame a few struggles but used her talent and determination to get where she wanted to be.

    As far as being treated equal by everyone around you that will never be completely achieved. My granny always told me “you can’t please everyone so please yourself” and “being judged is not fair but it happens.” Once someone judges you that decides your treatment from them whether intentional or not. Everyone makes mistakes and yes some can be costly but learning from them makes you a better person.

  4. 4 Sean Nguyen

    What’s that saying? “If survival is only for the fittest then all men weren’t created equal.” Let’s face it; life is about survival and competition. Genetics will make some better than others. No matter how we look at it, life’s not fair and never will be. The article gives references to leaders dealing with the issue of fairness, but is it not fair that the followers are followers and not leaders? I know you’re either born a leader or a follower, so if you’re a born follower…life’s already not fair…Great article! I agree that you have to focus on yourself and do your personal best…the rest is out of your hands…

  5. 5 Joshua Heenehan

    Good article. I think to many people focus on other people when they should be focusing on themselves. For me most of the time when i am faced with opposition I always go back to why me or why am I the only person going through this. I play the poor me card. The truth is there will always be someone who has it better and someone who has it worse of than you do. Focusing on that will get you nowhere. The only thing we can do is strive for excellence in everything we do. Like you said Galarraga didn’t freak out on the referee, he went back to the pitchers mound and got the batter out.

  6. 6 Jessica English

    This article really made me stop and think about this topic. l ife is not fair, and I dont think it was meant to be fair. Character building can not effectively happen without challenges that are out if our control. How will react, how will our future decisions be effected. Will we improve ourselves, will we gain greater sympathy and compassion for others, will be be wiser in the future? Or will we do just the opposite and become bitter, vengeful, harsh, and callus because we fell victim to an unfair situation.
    There was a newspaper article sometime age in NewYork. There was an accident that involved a woman and several young men. The young men were driving down the highway and tossed a frozen turkey out the window as a prank to other drivers. The turkey landed on the windshield of a woman in the car near them which resulted in a terrible accident. The accident resulted in burns and scars on the womans face and body to the point that she is not recognizable. The boys in the other car, no injury. NOT FAIR! The boys were arrested and while in the sentencing phase of their trial the injured woman was allowed to speak as the victim of the crime. Her words were most inspiring. She told the judge that she was not angry at the boys, she forgave them and did not want them to spend the better part of their lives in jail. She believed that they fully understood the error in their judgment and that they would not be a threat to society. They did not intend to hurt her, they were just being foolish boys that evening.
    This gave me a whole new perspective on “fair” and “Not fair” and reminded me that the only thing that I can control is myself, and the choices that I make in this life.

  7. 7 Riley Anderson

    I like the part where you say someone is doing better then you, but there is also someone doing worse. It always makes me feel bad about complaining how hard school is or how stressed out I am, because I know there there are people out there who have it a lot worse than me out there.

  8. 8 Coleman Statum

    I know that this blog is on the BIG picture of leadership and accepting responsibility, however with all the sports talk that is what I was thinking about. In Mississippi I have a friend that showed me what it was to be a coach and how to be one. A coach is a leader. A leader of little people but a leader none the less. My friend helped these kids reach the pinacle of their ability and then push them more to do better. Some of these kids have some great ability and others didn’t. The proudest we were was when the kid that was weaker made that play that you knew came from all their work and it puts that huge smile and confidence on their face.

  9. 9 Ana Niño

    There is much truth to what you say, Mr. Howard. Often times, when individuals compare themselves to others and realize they are inferior, they use a scapegoat or an excuse as a crutch to make themselves feel better about doing poorer than another person.
    In terms of comparing our own performance with another’s performance, I think we can identify this as the age-old concept of “competition”. Though I do agree that in order to come to peace with oneself, one should be more focused on one’s own ambitious (yet attainable) goals, competition is not necessarily a bad thing. I believe most humans are intrinsically wired to want to be “the very best” – sort of a primitive, “survival of the fittest” outlook on life, but it’s applicable in today’s world. Competition offers us an incentive to do even BETTER than what we thought we were capable of and to grow beyond our bounds and comfort zones. Competition is what drives people restless. It’s the attitude that doesn’t settle for mediocrity – a perpetual state of mind that is constantly looking for areas to improve in. Though it is healthy to recognize one’s strengths, improvements, and accomplishments, I would have to say that, personally, I consider myself the restless work-a-holic who is never/never will be perfectly content with myself.

  10. 10 Bobby Austin

    I thank you for that because we all need a little reminder sometimes that life is not fair and that there are many others in worse positions than you. I really like the entire message that is given especially “Focuses solely on reaching their full potential and helping their team reach their full potential and does not waste valuable time comparing themselves others.” because thats one of my biggest weaknesses and it was a good reminder to continue working on it.

  11. 11 Emmanuel Gonzalez

    I really appreciated the thought about running the race is more important than winning it. We all want to win, no one sets out to lose. Unfortunately not everyone is going to win all the time. We have to accept the things we cannot change and try to maintain a positive attitude. I have recently experienced this, it was very difficult to accept my failures and not point the blame somewhere else. It is easy to make excuses and not accept the consequences. It speaks volumes of our character if we can move on and accept the outcome, whatever it may be.

    • 12 Elizabeth

      We have to accept the things we can not change is key.

      My favorite part of the blog that summarizes it all is:

      “The great challenge for all Leaders is to focus on our own struggles and look for our own opportunities and never get caught up in other people’s luck and good fortune.”

      Taking the time to reflect and improve one’s own actions makes way for opportunities. From my experience, individuals waste too much time complaining about others instead of reflecting on their own experiences in order to improve themselves.

      Thanks for sharing this!

  12. 13 Laura Taylor

    Your ideas for becoming a better leader are really great. My department at my job is always asking for leadership training for our leads and managers. I feel like if more our leaders would give everyday their all with a positive attitude, they would inspire their coworkers give it their all. I look at it as you should complete every project or task as if it had your name on it, and be proud.

  13. 14 Ryan Pafford

    “Life is not fair” something we have all heard from a one or both parents at some point in our life. Even though life isn’t fair it hasn’t kept men and women throughout history from making lemonade out of lemons. Those who have done so are usually, in some form a leader… Rather than focusing on own misfortunes or others undeserved “luck,” we need to focus on learning from the situations, both good and bad to make the most of life.

  14. 15 John DeWitt

    Great article and the Antonio Galarraga story illustrates the point perfectly. Another athlete, Arthur Ashe, who died of AIDS from a blood transfusion through no fault of his own said “If I were to say, ‘God, why me?’ about the bad things, then I should have said, ‘God, why me?’ about the good things that happened in my life.” Like your article states, it is funny how most of us tend to focus on the “why me bad things” instead of working hard and realizing just how blessed we are.

  15. 16 Scott Blaser

    Learning to be happy for someone else when something good happens to them, especially when we really don’t like that person very well, is a tough thing to do. But I look at it this way, it was their turn. My turn will come around soon enough. So be happy for others when something good happens to them. There are enough bad things that happen to people in this world so be glad when someone has something good happen to them. You never know, they may be happy for you when it is your turn. If they are not then that says a lot about their character. It also says a lot about yours if you can be happy for others even when you do not feel they deserve it.

  16. 17 Michael Sullivan

    Very interesting. Especially like the steps for accepting criticism. As leaders, we all need to be a bit less defensive, and listen more.

    • 18 Amiee Rubealcaba

      If life was always fair, then how would any of us know what it feels to fail. Failures either make you or break you. As for me failure is a challenge to prove only to myself that I can one day accomplish my goal and helps me to keep trying. It just like asking and hearing the word no.. what is so bad about the word no..just come up with other means of getting it done and hearing the word yes. Don’t be a quitter. Keep trying. Never give up. And for the umpire that called that call, he knows, will be make the mistake again, No. Its also about learning from your mistakes. Watch and observe others, what they are doing right or wrong.

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