Mike Myatt is a bestselling author and a columnist. Commonly recognized as an authority on the subject of
leadership, he believes that leadership “exists to disrupt mediocrity.” As you read this opinion piece, take
notes on the author’s tone.
There seems to be a lot of talk these days about
what is fair, and what is not. President Obama
seems to believe life should be fair — that
“everybody should have a fair shake.” Some of
the 99% seem to believe life has treated them
unfairly, and some of the 1% feel life hasn’t
treated them fairly enough.1 My questions are
these: What is fair? Is life fair? Should life be fair?
I’ll frame the debate, and you decide…
We clearly have no choice about how we come
into this world, we have little choice early in life,
but as we grow older choices abound. I have long
believed that while we have no control over the
beginning of our life, the overwhelming majority of us have the ability to influence the outcomes we
attain. Fair is a state of mind, and most often, an unhealthy state of mind.
In business, in politics, and in life, most of us are beneficiaries2
of the outcomes we have contributed
to. Our station in life cannot, or at least should not, be blamed on our parents, our teachers, our
pastors, our government, or our society — it’s largely based on the choices we make, and the attitudes
People have overcome poverty, drug addiction, incarceration, abuse, divorce, mental illness,
victimization, and virtually every challenge known to man. Life is full of examples of the uneducated,
the mentally and physically challenged, people born into war-torn impoverished backgrounds, who
could have complained about life being unfair, but who instead chose a different path — they chose to
overcome the odds and to leave the world better than they found it. Regardless of the challenges they
faced, they had the character to choose contribution over complaint.
1. The “99%” refers to income inequality and wealth distribution between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the
American population. In September 2011, demonstrators protesting greed and corruption among corporations,
financial institutions, and politicians gathered in Zuccotti Park, located in New York City’s Wall Street financial district.
They began a movement known as “Occupy Wall Street,” intended to draw attention to the massive divide of wealth
in the United States. According to economist Joseph Stiglitz, “[I]n our democracy, 1% of the people take nearly a
quarter of the nation’s income.… In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1% control 40%.”
2. Beneficiary (noun): a person who derives an advantage or benefit from something
I don’t dispute that challenges exist. I don’t even dispute that many have an uphill battle due to the
severity of the challenges they face. What I vehemently3
dispute is attempting to regulate, adjudicate,4
fairness somehow solves the world’s problems. Mandates6
don’t create fairness, but
people’s desire and determination can work around or overcome most life challenges.
It doesn’t matter whether you are born with a silver spoon, plastic spoon, or no spoon at all. It’s not the
circumstances by which you come into this world, but what you make of them once you arrive that
matter. One of my clients came to this country from Africa in his late teens, barely spoke the language,
drove a cab while working his way through college, and is now the president of a large technology
services firm. Stories such as this are all around us — they are not miracles, nor are they the rare
exception. They do however demonstrate blindness to the mindset of the fairness doctrine.
From a leadership perspective, it’s a leader’s obligation to do the right thing, regardless of whether or
not it’s perceived as the fair thing. When leaders attempt to navigate the slippery slope of fairness, they
will find themselves arbiter7
of public opinion and hostage to the politically correct. Fair isn’t a standard
to be imposed unless a leader is attempting to impose mediocrity. Fair blends to a norm, and in doing
so, it limits, inhibits, stifles, and restricts, all under the guise of balance and equality. I believe fair only
exists as a rationalization or justification. The following 11 points came from a commencement speech
widely attributed to Bill Gates entitled Rules for Life. While many dispute the source, whether it was
proffered by Bill Gates or not, I tend to agree with the hypothesis:
Rule 1: Life is not fair — get used to it!
Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish
something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.
Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a
car phone until you earn both.
Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.
Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for
burger flipping — they called it opportunity.
Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from
Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from
paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you are.
So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing8
closet in your own room.
3. Vehemently (adverb): with strong feelings; enthusiastically or forcefully
4. to make an official judgment or decision about a dispute or problem
5. Legislate (verb): to write and pass laws
6. Mandate (noun): the authority to carry out a particular policy or task
7. Arbiter (noun): having ultimate authority in a matter
8. “Delousing” refers to the process of ridding someone or something of lice and other parasitic insects.
“Life Isn’t Fair — Deal With It” by Mike Myatt. Copyright © 2011 by Forbes. Reprinted with permission, all rights reserved.
Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools
they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right
answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.
Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are
interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.
Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to
Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.
Here’s the thing — we all face challenges, and life treats us all unfairly. We all make regrettable choices,
and we all suffer from things thrust upon us due to little if any fault of our own. When I suffered a
stroke at an early age, I certainly asked myself “why did this happen to me?” I could have
felt sorry for myself and became bitter, I could have thrown in the towel and quit on my family and
myself — I didn’t. It took two years of gut-wrenching effort, but what I thought was a great injustice at
the time changed my life for the better. Today, you couldn’t tell I ever had a stroke. The greatest
adversity life can throw at you simply affords you an opportunity to make changes, improve, and get
By the title of today’s column you have no doubt surmised I believe life is not fair, nor do I believe we
should attempt to socially or financially engineer it to be such. Fair is not an objective10 term — it is a
matter of perspective filtered by a subjective11 assessment. My subjective assessment is that fair is an
entitlement12 concept manufactured to appease those who somehow feel slighted. Life isn’t fair —
9. Debilitating (adjective): making someone very weak or sick
10. Objective (adjective): not influenced by a person’s opinions or feelings
11. Subjective (adjective): based on personal opinions and feelings rather than on facts
12. Entitlement (noun): the belief that a person is deserving of something
For the following questions, choose the best answer or respond in complete sentences.
1. PART A: Which of the following best describes the tone of the article?
A. sympathetic and firm
B. curious and philosophical
C. excited and inspirational
D. frustrated and critical
2. PART B: Which of the following quotes best supports the answer to Part A?
A. “My questions are these: What is fair?” (Paragraph 1)
B. “I don’t dispute that challenges exist. I don’t even dispute that many have an
uphill battle due to the severity of the challenges they face.” (Paragraph 5)
C. “Stories such as this are all around us — they are not miracles, nor are they the
rare exception.” (Paragraph 6)
D. “Fair blends to a norm, and in doing so, it limits, inhibits, stifles, and restricts, all
under the guise of balance and equality.” (Paragraph 7)
3. Which of the following statements best describes a central idea of the text?
A. Fairness is a recent concept when it comes to governing and life in general.
B. Fairness is a subjective idea and is not a natural characteristic of life.
C. Those born into privilege are more likely to succeed than those born into
D. Younger generations have no appreciation for the sacrifices made for them.
4. What is the author’s most likely purpose for writing this article?
A. The author argues for less government interference among the wealthy and the
poor, and for an end to welfare programs.
B. The author argues for parents do less for their children so young Americans can
learn the power of hard work and overcoming challenges.
C. The author argues for greater recognition for hard-working individuals and
fewer awards for failing individuals.
D. The author argues for an end to the fairness mindset because it hinders hard
work and leads to an unhealthy sense of entitlement.
5. What does the author mean by the following quote from paragraph 7, and how does it
develop the central ideas of the article?: “When leaders attempt to navigate the slippery
slope of fairness, they will find themselves arbiter of public opinion and hostage to the
Directions: Brainstorm your answers to the following questions in the space provided. Be prepared to
share your original ideas in a class discussion.
1. Do you agree or disagree with the statement, “If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so
don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them”? What would be the counterargument
to this assertion?
2. The author believes that the concept of “fairness” is not a useful term, and that it makes
people feel entitled to good outcomes. Make an argument for the opposite—how would
you convince someone that the concept of “fairness” is an important one.
3. Where do you fall in the “life isn’t fair, deal with it” debate? Is this a good or bad way of
thinking about your life? Explain your answer.