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Life Is Not Fair; Deal With It


Life is not fairLast month, RB40Jr was crying when he stepped off the school bus. It took me a while to calm him down and get the story out. It turned out he was disciplined by the bus driver. He and another kid were changing seats while the bus was moving. That’s a big no-no. The bus driver saw my son and made him sit all the way in front so he can keep an eye on him. However, the driver didn’t catch the other kid. My son complained that the other kid started it and he got off scot-free. Junior was super upset because he was disciplined and the other kid wasn’t. He cried and complained that it is not fair.

Well son, welcome to the real world. Life is not fair. This is just one incident. I got stories like this quite often. There are around 70 kids on that bus route. It’s insane. Can you imagine trying to drive while the kids move around, throw stuff out the window while screaming, and/or fighting? That’s a tough job.

Luckily, we moved and RB40Jr is now on a different bus route. This new bus has about 10 kids on it. Wow, what a difference. It’s much quieter on this bus and he loves it. (He has hearing impairment in one ear and loud ambiance noise hurts his ears.) Now, is that fair? Not really. This route is much cushier. The bus driver on this route must have seniority or something. It’s a cakewalk compared to the other route.

It’s a big unfair world

I’m a bit behind the news cycle here, but the college admission scandal inspired this post. Is it fair that the rich and famous can cheat and get their kids into the best colleges? No way. If they hadn’t gotten caught, we wouldn’t have known about it. From what I read, this whole investigation stemmed from a parent who was cutting a deal with the prosecutor on another unrelated case. If this guy didn’t blab, the “college placement consulting” company would still be raking it in. Rich parents would continue to cheat and get their way.

What about the Asian-Americans college admission issue? Harvard and other colleges discriminate against Asian-American applicants by holding them to a higher standard. My son will have to deal with that when he’s older. It’s crazy that race is still an issue today, but that’s life. African Americans and Latinos face way more discrimination than Asian Americans in all facets of life. That’s not fair.

Of course, it’s one-sided. Our son has a ton of advantages, too. He was born in the US and is a boy. Those are two huge advantages already. He also has two loving parents, a comfortable home, plenty to eat, internet access, indoor plumbing, a great school, clean clothes, a good brain, and a growing college fund. He has a ton of advantages over many kids his age all over the world. It’s a big unfair world, isn’t it?

Deal with it

What do you say to the kids when they complain that it’s not fair? I told our son life is not fair; deal with it. That’s just the way it is.

My advice is – don’t get caught. That’s probably not the best advice, but it’s practical. Of course, I tell him to follow the rules, too. But kids can’t follow rules all the time. Inevitably, they’ll break them. In those occasions, don’t get caught. If you get caught, you’ll be in trouble. It’s simple.

Now that I think about it more. “Don’t get caught” probably is terrible advice. It’s okay at this age because they aren’t really doing anything too bad. However, the consequences of breaking rules will escalate when he grows up. He will have to weigh the consequences against what he gains by breaking the rules. In most cases, it’s probably best to follow the rules.

But, “rules” aren’t always the laws. Most of them are just social norms. I broke a “rule” when I retired from my engineering career at 38. Society has all kind of expectations, but you don’t have to follow all of them. You can go your own way and do your own things. As long as it doesn’t hurt other people, I think it is fine to break some rules.

Life isn’t fair, but I can’t complain. I’m in a good place now. You have to be optimistic and overcome the challenges life throws at you. I think that will be the biggest lesson for RB40Jr. Yes, life isn’t fair. But you need to keep going and try to succeed. Never feel like a victim. Crying doesn’t help. Get over it and keep moving forward.

What about you? What do you tell the kids when they complain it’s not fair?

Here is a life lesson from Johnny Lawrence. Strike first. Strike hard. No mercy.

Image by Anna Samoylova

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, the job became too stressful and Joe retired from his engineering career to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. Today, he blogs about financial independence, early retirement, investing, and living a frugal lifestyle.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is increasing his investment in real estate with CrowdStreet. He can invest in projects across the U.S. and diversify his real estate portfolio. There are many interesting projects available so sign up and check them out.

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{ 51 comments… add one }
  • Lily |TFG March 27, 2019, 3:54 am

    Yes life is certainly hard to swallow sometimes! But life rolls on.

    I’m glad you brought up the Asian American college discrimination thing. I was just watching a rerun of King of the Hill, not sure if you have seen it before, but there’s a character from Laos name Kahn and he said, “It’s not fair. We escape dictatorship to come here to get educated and achieve higher just to have college turn us down for being another overachieving Asian.”

    I remember a bunch of half white / half asian kids discussing to put down Other on the application and never white, and definitely never just Asian. I was too young to understand at the time.

    • retirebyforty March 27, 2019, 7:39 am

      They really need to get rid of that box. It’s too easy to discriminate with race.

  • Done by Forty March 26, 2019, 12:09 am

    Kobra Kai dispensing life lessons?

    I think you might be my hero, Joe. Though I’m a little scared of you now, too.

    The world certainly isn’t fair and yes, we do have to deal with it. But I think it’s a good thing to push for making things more fair, too: to point out when things aren’t right, and to make an honest attempt at improving them.

  • Andreas March 25, 2019, 4:35 am

    Hi, I am sure you do this but the post doesn´t reflect on it. Tell your son that life is not fair but also about the other pros and cons about different things. So that he doesn´t think “deal with it” is the answer to anything. If he understand a bit better on how the world works he might just deal with it better. Just saying since my dad also did the “deal with it” shit without any further explanation..that just made me mad since I did not have any context about the world in general. Like you write in your post, there are different priveliges and different “unfairness”. As an adult you see it but a child might probably not.

    It is unfair and we should try to to continue to even the playfield. Also do not forget that even if we have a lot of unfairness (a great deal) and setbacks, we in this world are making progress.

    • retirebyforty March 27, 2019, 7:29 am

      Thanks for your input. I’ll work on the delivery. I usually try to explain it along with the “deal with it.”

  • Eva March 25, 2019, 12:42 am

    Hi RB40,
    I love your blog, and I hope I´ll be living a FIRE lifestyle whrn I hit 50 (I´m currently 42).To me it is a remarkable cultural difference between the US and Europe. I´ve never ever said or heard “that´s not fair” when I was a kid, nor when I grew up, and I had my fair share of unfairness. You just deal with it, you had to toughen up. When I´m tempted to have a pity party, I think of all the good things I already have and what do I have to do to get what I want. I´m always willing to break some social rules, and it has worked for me. Thanks again for your blog.


  • Tre March 24, 2019, 4:30 am

    When I first saw the reports on the college admissions scandal I was not surprised. Didn’t we all sort of know that rich people had their own rules? I was a little shocked by some of the amounts parents were paying to get their kids accepted.
    We’ve taught our kids that life isn’t fair. Follow the rules and learn how to use them to your advantage.

  • Jason March 23, 2019, 3:37 pm

    This is a lesson I am hoping to communicate to our son. Life isn’t fair and I want to give him every advantage he can, but I also want to create a little resistance so that he has to fight through it. Going through adversity will make him better. Not sure how to structure it. I guess we will see.

  • mary w March 23, 2019, 10:06 am

    Never had kids so…I think what happened to RB40jr was “fair”. He knowingly broke the rules and got a completely appropriate punishment. If he got blamed for something he didn’t do that would be “unfair”.

  • David @iretiredyoung March 22, 2019, 11:21 am

    I’ve said exactly those words to my kids. They’re now 23 and 20, and we still chat about things and I offer my advice, and sometimes it’s even listened to! Nowadays, we tend not to talk about things being unfair, but about how to achieve their objectives when there’s something in the way. In essence, spending their energy on achieving what they want, rather than wasting it on complaining.

    • retirebyforty March 22, 2019, 2:18 pm

      That’s great. I hope Junior will mature to be like your kids. Complaining doesn’t solve anything. You have to take action.

  • Abigail @ipickuppennies March 22, 2019, 8:47 am

    No kids here, so I suppose my weighing in is somewhat unfair. But I think a slightly less blunt version of “Deal with it” is probably best. Although you could always encourage them to fight against it where possible/appropriate. Not to the point of ratting out a fellow student, but fighting against actual injustice/racism whenever possible. Though I imagine that gets wearying when it’s a constant onslaught and you can’t fight all the time. So I guess advise them to pick their battles too. Man, parenting is tough. I’m increasingly glad it didn’t fall to me to mold new humans.

  • Sam March 22, 2019, 5:27 am

    I would rather believe in Karma that one day we will get what we are due with interest, good or bad.

  • MonkWealth March 22, 2019, 3:06 am

    Understanding the rules is the best way to beat the game. 🙂

  • Mr. Tako March 21, 2019, 9:06 pm

    Absolutely right Joe. This is exactly what I tell my kids — Life isn’t fair, you just have to deal with it. Get stronger, get faster, and get smarter so *you* have the advantage next time.

    Hopefully some of it actually sinks in someday 😉

  • Sam Thakur March 21, 2019, 9:00 pm

    life isn’t always fair, we always get a change to improve things in our life. Sorry for the bus incident that happened to Jr. on the bus.

    Its always better to focus on improving instead of complaining about things. we should learn how to our unfair moments as motivation to strive more in life.

  • Little Seeds of Wealth March 21, 2019, 5:15 pm

    I still have those “life’s unfair” moments sometimes although my tolerance for unfairness has grown quite a lot growing up. It’s not a bad thing. Sometimes we just need those moments to not become too comfortable or overconfident.
    What’d I say to my kids? I don’t know because I don’t have kids yet, but my parents like to tell me “Be patient. Your moment will come.”

    • retirebyforty March 22, 2019, 2:14 pm

      That’s pretty good. But kids have no patience. 🙂 We’ll have to work on that too.

  • Sarah March 21, 2019, 1:07 pm

    This is a timely post. During my minister’s sermon 12 days ago, she mentioned that another parent is one of her favorite people. One of the reasons is her “Life is not fair” response. When her daughter says “Life isn’t Fair”, the mom responds that it is a good thing life isn’t fair because her daughter would have a lot less stuff. I wish I had thought of that when our kids were young.

  • Jim @ Route To Retire March 21, 2019, 12:39 pm

    I think you nailed it in saying that there will always be some things that will be unfair and there will be some things that are advantageous to us. The hard part is getting a kid to understand that. 🙂

    I have a tendency to just lay things out with my daughter similar to your example with your son. I think that bothers Mrs. R2R as she wants me to be a little more gentle, but I’m just not that good at it.

    — Jim

    • retirebyforty March 22, 2019, 2:13 pm

      I’m pretty blunt most of the time too. I’ve been telling him to toughen up. No crying unless you’re bleeding.
      Mrs. RB40 and I have no idea what we’re doing. That’s why I’m asking for advice. 🙂

  • Paul N March 21, 2019, 11:00 am

    I disagree with a lot of these concepts. Some of your commentators here so far have had good points though, particularly about jealousy.
    I believe “white privilege” is a myth perpetuated by a victim mentality to advance a particular ideological agenda. It’s also backed up by a lot of factual data that my description here is correct. In our new society that values emotions over facts, it seems that no longer matters and people fall into a trap of repeating false information because it feels good.
    There will always be a few people left behind for various reasons (self inflicted, or other), however we should always ensure we have “equality of opportunity” vs. “equality of outcome”, we already have a pretty good system in place that covers that, people just ignore that. As for, “White Knighting” for these “victims”? Is it because you really care, or are you afraid that if you don’t sound like you do care, they might come after you one day? I think that is a valid question to ask.
    Lets be honest, all parents will cheat in some way to try to have their children get an edge on other persons child or a step up in life. That is human nature. This happens in some way every day. This is just a bigger scaled version of that with the college scandal. Your just finding a different way to get your kid in a line ahead of another persons kid. Look at Disneyland. You pay extra to get a front of the line pass. Some parents even faked their kids having a disability to get on rides faster. True story.
    I’ll also use AOC as an example here to sum up the theme of your post today. Here is a person that has a very powerful voice in America. However she still has the emotional state of RB40 Jr. and never got past that level. If another child in her class would have received a cupcake with one extra sprinkle on it when she was in Kindergarten, you could bet she would have raged for days and conceptualized over and over how she one day could level the playing field for the next cupcake day in school.

    Good topic though. You have had some good posts lately.

    • nicoleandmaggie March 21, 2019, 12:20 pm

      I know you’re unlikely to listen to a woman, because they’re all emotional vicitms amirite, but here’s a link from a certified White Guy that can help explain the way the playing field works in understandable terms: https://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/

      Also.. if you think AOC is emotional, how do you feel about Brett Kavanaugh? Or is that different?

      I know, I know, don’t feed the trolls. Sorry!

      • Paul N March 21, 2019, 3:54 pm

        A science fiction + fantasy writer using a game analogy? O.K. Sure?
        Hey there are plenty of intelligent women that through the “equality of opportunity” that I mentioned are very successful. Unfortunately there is a smaller more vocal group that prefer to participate and promote victim-hood culture.

        As for Brett – I would really like to see how well ANYONE would have acted in that environment in front of the world falsely being accused of a crime by a person who’s story was hugely suspect. She has made out like a bandit on a go fund me page due to her sudden fame in the aftermath. The whole charade was all about “resist” and damn anyone who got in the way of that. How did any citizen benefit from that process? The whole proceeding was simply a world wide embarrassment for the entire country.

  • freddy smidlap March 21, 2019, 8:21 am

    i hope you have copies of that hurt feelings report i put out a few weeks ago. it’s really all relative. i was reading some junk yesterday about the unfairness of everything. really i should just start every day with an apology to everyone for everything i have and haven’t done yet. then follow with some kind of acknowledgement of my privilege. will that solve the inequities of will all be the same for the under-served?

    • retirebyforty March 21, 2019, 8:56 am

      I missed that one, but just went to read it. Yeah, I agree with you. Why spend so much energy being outraged? Just move on with your day.

  • Scott @ Costa Rica FIRE March 21, 2019, 7:39 am

    Our younger child is 17, and she has been through many things in her short life (and particularly in high school where she is now a senior) that are unfair. Great topic, and probably something you’ll continue to talk to him about over the years!

    Granted that our child is much older than yours, so the conversation and topics are different, but it is interesting – when we talk to her about the unfairness of life when she has had a particularly bad and unfair day, and try to provide suggestions on how to deal with it, she really doesn’t want to hear it. All she wants from her parents is compassion and to be a sounding board.

    This college admissions board issue is also front of mind because we are in the middle of receiving college decisions! I now do wonder in the back of my mind whether there might be a few more spots for my child, who is on the fence for some of the types of elite colleges caught up in these shenanigans.

    • retirebyforty March 21, 2019, 8:41 am

      Good luck with college admission. It sounds like a ton of stress for everyone.
      I think that’s just being a teenager. They don’t really want advice. I’m sure we’ll go through the same thing.

  • Lazy Man and Money March 21, 2019, 6:47 am

    I love this article! I got attacked on Twitter by personal finance bloggers for sharing a similar view. You did a lot better in putting it in an article with the context of an interaction with your child, which is what inspired my view. Due to it being Twitter, I couldn’t provide that context.

    I don’t have a very good answer for what I tell my kids other than the title of the article. I should explain in more detail, but it’s often already at a point of urgency and not a time to get into a philosophy of life discussion.

    • retirebyforty March 21, 2019, 8:39 am

      Yes… I think I know what you’re talking about. I avoided those threads on Twitter.
      Life isn’t fair. You have to deal with it. You can’t play the victim card all the time.
      Of course, if you’re helping to make it better, then maybe it’s a good thing.

  • Financially Fit Mom March 21, 2019, 5:40 am

    My daughter constantly tells me how unfair it is that she has a time limit on her phone when none of her friends do. Here’s the funny thing. She was the one who decided the amount of time when I brought up the limit and I agreed to what she said!

    I’ve used the “don’t get caught”. I’ve also said I’m not responsible for the other kid(s) or I’m not the parent of the other kid(s). I TRY to stay away from “I don’t care about…” but I admit, I’ve fallen to that a time or two also. Lately, since you just can’t win with a teenager, I’m learning to just nod and agree, “You’re right, it’s not fair, but this is how it is.”

    • retirebyforty March 21, 2019, 8:38 am

      Screen time is getting to be a big problem here too. That’s another battle we have almost every day. Ugh!
      I’ve resorted to “because I say so” many times. It’s tough to deal with kids.
      I’ll try “this is how it is” next time.

      • Sam March 22, 2019, 5:19 am

        I tell my niece that if she wants her way she can pay for it. If I pay for it than my rules apply. She comes home after school and does odd jobs around the house which I pay her for and she gets too busy to spend time on her phone. Also she is finding it harder to spend the money which took her so much hard work to make. I also told her if I have to clean after her I will charge her for my time. Her room has never been cleaner. Haha

  • Ms. Frugal Asian Finance March 21, 2019, 5:32 am

    I’m sorry about what happened to Jr. on the bus. That is indeed unfair. I hope the bus driver was just too busy and wasn’t partial to the other kid. Still, it stinks.

    I’m sure our kids will come home one day complaining that life is not fair. I myself do that from time to time often out of frustration and jealousy. But like you said, we do have a lot of advantages other think are not fair. I guess the world is just one unfair place, but we just have to keep moving forward.

    • retirebyforty March 21, 2019, 8:36 am

      I’m sure the bus driver was too distracted. It’s not a big deal. There were other similar incidents where justice wasn’t dealt out equally. Junior has been on both sides… Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That’s just life.

      • Jason April 1, 2019, 10:45 am

        I tend to be overly direct, fortunately my wife is great at the nurturing aspects of parenting. I tell my older teens:

        1. Don’t feel guilty for winning, take advantage of your advantages, others certainly will use theirs.

        2. Know your limitations- there is always someone smarter, faster, stronger. Don’t apologize for losing, if you’ve put in your best effort.

        3. Don’t be a jerk- there are too many already. Karma is a real thing, one way or the other you will get back what you put out.

  • Nicoleandmaggie March 21, 2019, 5:01 am

    We should all work to make the world more fair. We should use our privilege to help the less privileged so that everyone has access to the same advantages we have.

    The first time I was told life isn’t fair was in Sunday school. I think that is part of why I ultimately broke with the Catholic Church.

    • retirebyforty March 21, 2019, 8:34 am

      Thank you for this. I was trying to put this into the post, but couldn’t get it right.
      We should try to help level the playing field.

  • Xrayvsn March 21, 2019, 3:32 am

    There are some things that each of us have to deal with that may make it more challenging than others. Having a child definitely brings up a lot of these issues as you sort of live your life now through their world.

    My daughter has food allergies (nuts being a major one) and I often think how unfair it is that she has to go through life always cautious about what she eats while her friends can go about without a care in the world. It really is a challenge when going out to ensure that she won’t eat something that will cause a severe reaction.

    She handles it way better than I do as it saddens me she can’t enjoy something that every kid loves like Reeses or a PBJ.

    Life isn’t fair but it doesn’t make use wallowing about the cards you are dealt with. You need to just go on and make the best of it. It often will make you stronger and prepare you to succeed at something someone else who had everything gifted will have trouble with.

    • retirebyforty March 21, 2019, 8:33 am

      It seems like there is something wrong with many kids. Kids have dyslexia, nut allergy, diabetes, etc…
      It’s crazy. Our son has a hearing impairment and it’s a lot of trouble. But he’ll have to learn to function with it.
      It’s way better than diabetes, that’s for sure.

  • Dave @ Accidental FIRE March 21, 2019, 2:03 am

    But it’s much easier to play the victim Joe, perhaps you haven’t been on social media!

    • retirebyforty March 21, 2019, 8:31 am

      Never play the victim or cry about it. You have to move on. It is pretty ridiculous on social media. I tend to avoid those arguments.

  • Clarence @ Oracle Of FI March 20, 2019, 11:50 pm

    “Life isn’t fair” is a good life lesson.

    Kids (or adults) who expect life to be fair will be disappointed when reality (inevitably) fails to meet their expectations. We would like to say to them that life is fair. By doing so, however, we would be making them thoroughly unprepared for the uncertainties to come.

    We should teach them to “deal with it”, as you suggest in your article. I’m not sure we should tell kids to “not get caught”, but we should certainly encourage them to be accepting of life’s shifting fortunes.

    • retirebyforty March 21, 2019, 8:29 am

      Exactly! Kids need to learn that life isn’t fair. You’re right about the “don’t get caught.” It’s bad advice. That’s why I’m trying to get some help here.

  • Tawcan March 20, 2019, 11:49 pm

    Yea life isn’t always fair and that’s a big life lesson we’ve all got to learn at one point of our lives. For the bus incident it’s probably best to explain the safety aspect rather than focusing on the fact that the other kid wasnt caught as well.

    Rather complain about things not being fair all the time, use that as motivation.

    • retirebyforty March 21, 2019, 8:29 am

      You’re right. I told him that they shouldn’t be moving around anyway. Kids tend to focus on the unfairness of it all, though.

  • MINDY March 20, 2019, 11:31 pm

    The college issue is all I see in the news now! Honestly, I am not surprised by it as I am sure other similar situations are happening now where the rich have power. They just haven’t been caught, like you said.
    I am glad you didn’t blame the bus driver and took sympathy for him/her! There is too much going on and there’s just no way to keep all eyes on 70 kids. For your son (next time), one thing he could try doing is telling a teacher or the bus driver afterwards about what happened if it bothered him a lot. Otherwise, it could be left as a learning experience for him.
    I personally tell kids that not everything is fair, but we have to use the resources and talents we have. Everyone is unique and even though you may lack in something , you make up for in other ways. 🙂

    • retirebyforty March 21, 2019, 8:28 am

      That bus route is crazy. Recently, they added a bus monitor so the job is a bit better. I wouldn’t want to drive with all those distractions.
      Thanks for your input. I’ll emphasize having different talents and resources next time. Life isn’t fair, but you have to do the best you can.

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