All reports are in. Life is officially unfair.
That’s right. Life is unfair. And that’s been especially evident during the Great Recession. Lots and lots of people got hurt who did nothing wrong. In fact, they played by the rules, did their best, and still lost their jobs, homes and savings. It wasn’t fair.
In a sense, we all became the victims of a few politicians and a few businesspeople who made decisions and carried out policies that feathered their nests while they destroyed ours. And I’m angry about that … because it isn’t fair.
HOWEVER, we do NOT have to remain victims. No matter what has happened or is happening in your life financially, occupationally, physically, relationally, or emotionally, you CAN rise above it. You CAN become bigger and better than the unfairness.
You CAN get through this … and any other unfairness in your life and your work … IF you nurture your maturity. For maturity, you see, is the capacity to face unpleasantness and disappointment without becoming bitter. It’s knowing that it’s not so much what happens to you but how your respond to those things that really count.
Marty Nemko, the author of “Cool Careers for Dummies,” talks about that. Growing up, he knew his father had survived a concentration camp during World War II, but he rarely heard his father talk about it. So one day Nemko asked his father why he never complained about his suffering and losses.
His father simply replied, “The Nazis took five years from my life. I won’t give them one minute more. Martin, never look back; always look forward.”
He’s right. And when you’re in the midst of great trial, trauma, and unfairness … when you need to get through the tough times … when you need maturity more than ever, I recommend the following three strategies.
=> 1. Practice acceptance.
As sociologist M. Kathleen Casey put it, “Acceptance is not submission; it is acknowledgement of the facts of a situation, then deciding what you’re going to do about it.”
In other words, when life smacks you down with some of its unfairness, you can’t afford to waste your time on griping, groaning, whining, blaming, or complaining. That will only make you bitter.
Your first step has to be “acknowledgement.” You acknowledge the fact you’re in a tough situation, AND you’re going to do something about it. That will make you better.
Perhaps the best example of that very strategy was Noah and his Ark. He acknowledged the fact he was in the midst of tough times … with the whole world set against him. And he was determined to do something about it. As one anonymous author put it, everything I need to know about life I learned from Noah’s Ark.
One: Don’t miss the boat.
Two: Remember that we are all in the same boat.
Three: Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built his Ark.
Four: Stay fit. When you’re 600 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big.
Five: Don’t listen to critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done.
Six: Build your future on high ground.
Seven: For safety’s sake, travel in pairs.
Eight: Speed isn’t always an advantage. The snails were on board with the cheetahs.
Nine: When you’re stressed, float a while.
Ten: Remember, the Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic by professionals.
Eleven: No matter the storm, when you are with God, there’s always a rainbow waiting.
So the first step towards maturity is acknowledgement … accepting the reality of your situation … which is quite different than “woe-is-me” submission. And once you’ve got this step in place, I recommend the second strategy, which is …
=> 2. Control your reaction.
If you can’t prevent the bad things from happening in your life, if you can’t stop the unfairness in your work, you CAN at the very least control your reaction to those things. After all, as Bushrod H. Campbell points out, “If I’ve learned anything in my 70 years it’s that nothing’s as good or as bad as it appears.” It’s all in the way you see it and react to it.
Jerry Smith, a builder from Duluth, Minnesota, gave a vivid example of that. When he was working in the Black Hills of South Dakota in the 1980’s, a major forest fire roared through the area. In the midst of that, he stopped at a fast food restaurant for breakfast. As he was eating, a teenage boy and girl came in with their parents, all looking as if the end of the world had arrived.
The mother began to tell anyone who would listen how a forest ranger roused her family from their campsite in the middle of the night. He’d told them they were in a fire danger zone. “Get in your car and leave immediately,” he’d ordered. “Do not gather your belongings. Just head east to the main highway.”
“We had planned and saved for this camping trip for years,” the mother lamented. “It is just terrible. Our vacation is ruined!”
A short time later, another family came into the restaurant — a mom, dad, two boys, and a girl. All were smiling, laughing, and in good spirits. They sat near Smith and the mother began recounting a familiar tale. “We were amazed at the way the ranger took control of a difficult and dangerous situation,” she began.
“We scrambled to get dressed and in our hurry, I was barefoot, my daughter was wearing my husband’s boots, and the boys were in their socks! What a wonderful experience it was!” she exclaimed. “This is a great vacation we are having and we will remember it forever!”
So you see, both families were in the SAME situation, but their reactions to it were very DIFFERENT. It only goes to show that you DO have control over your reaction, and you need to exert that control when life is unfair. As TV writer and producer Susan Harris puts it, “Anyone can be happy when times are good; the richer experience is to be happy when times are not.”
Finally, to practice maturity, to get through the tough times, I strongly suggest that you…
=> 3. Give thanks for the tough times.
“What?” you say. “Give thanks for the tough times? That’s just plain crazy.” I can hear you say it.
I grant you the fact that it’s not “normal” to give thanks when life is unfair and work is overwhelming. But I’m more concerned with what works and doesn’t work than what’s “normal.” And the smart folks … who do the best job of getting through the tough times … have learned to give thanks for them.
The smart folks give thanks for the LESSONS that come with the tough times. And there are always a host of lessons to be learned. As author Brian Tracy says, “In life, difficulties are placed in our path not to obstruct, but to instruct.”
I know that’s been true for me. When I lost many of my family members … due to the ravages of divorce, alcoholism, suicide, gambling, unemployment, and imprisonment that ran through some of my family members … I learned how to take care of myself, no matter what. And I’m enormously thankful for those lessons, even though I would not want to repeat the experiences that brought those lessons.
As poet Joseph Addison said hundreds of years ago, “Our real blessings often appear to us in the shape of pains, losses, and disappointments; but let us have patience, and we soon shall see them in their proper figures.”
So smart folks give thanks for the LESSONS that come with the tough times. And smart folks give thanks for the LIGHTNESS that comes after the bad times.. They give thanks for the bad times, because without them, the good times would not be nearly as sweet.
Helen Keller knew that better than most. And despite the fact she was not able to see, speak, or hear, she still climbed to international fame, proclaiming, “The marvelous riches of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.”
Senator Bob Dole learned the same lesson. As a senior, retired, and distinguished politician, Dole says, “I think one of life’s greatest pleasures is when a person can look back and be almost as thankful for the setbacks as for the victories.”
Now that’s maturity.