Life isn’t fair

We all know that one of the big truths around life and career is that it isn’t fair. I find that getting people to accept this basic truth is one of the main conversations that you end up having when you are talking to people about career.

“But, the psychometric that they are using has been proven to have no validity”

“But it is basically impossible to meet their requirements if you have taken maternity leave.”

“I can’t publish as much as other people because I have too much marking to do”

And so on.

The answer to all of these issues is firstly “well, yes, life isn’t fair”. But the second has to be “what are you going to do about it?” Doing something about the unfairness of life and career often ends up as an individual response. It is probably quicker to recognise that life isn’t fair and to compensate for it (working harder or cheating) or to become accommodated to it (recognise that your failure isn’t due to your lack of ability). However it is always to possible to think – life isn’t fair and to try and do something about the unfairness.

Some people would say that merely succeeding in an unfair world is doing something about the unfairness. These people argue that when enough women/working class people/disabled people etc. get to the top they will change the system. The problem with this is that (a) the decks are stacked against this ever happening – remember life is unfair and (b) when those people get to the top they often forget where they came from or feel that since they made it to the top in an unfair system actually anyone can.

Personally I’m not sure that waiting for exceptional people to break through the unfairness is the best solution. If we want life and career to be less unfair we have to start to change things at a systemic level rather than merely push champions through and hope that they will chuck scraps down. This means doing something that is political, it means organising collectively and agitating to bring about change through pressure groups, trade unions and other collective bodies. It is only when we start to point out the unfairness loudly enough and suggest less unfair ways to achieve it that we have a chance of making a difference.

So for all of you who are out there having career conversations with people, think about this. When you are talking to someone about the unfairness of life help them to see that unfairness clearly. Clarity will help them to place the blame where it belongs, it will help them to identify strategies to over come it, but it should also encourage them to want to change the unfairness and not merely to step round it. Sometimes (often) this will mean developing collective solutions rather than individual ones. But, sometimes (often) it is only through these collective solutions that career development really becomes available to all.


  1. Thanks Tris. One of the issues is that sometimes, the individuals experiencing such unfairness do not relate to the professional/s providing the guidance. These professionals themselves are part of the ‘gatekeepers’ and therefore being told by them that life is unfair (although I know you’re not actually saying they do this in such stark terms), may not achieve the desired results. However, if these professionals are, as you suggest, committed to actively changing the status quo, then yes, the landscape of un/fairness will change.You also make some interesting points about those who make it, perhaps this points to the ‘personality types’ who do indeed tend to make it – another post for another day 🙂

  2. Interesting. Do you think that clients see careers workers as part of the unfair system? These days it takes a pretty big stretch of the imagination to see careers workers as powerful and privileged.I’m not really saying that the job of the careers worker is to say that life is unfair. I’d guess that people get to this themselves. My thought is that the careers worker is trying to help them to deal with that fairness. I’d hope that this can be about pointing out the possibilities for collective as well as individual action.

  3. Yes. Agreed regarding careers workers as powerful and privileged! However:a) Depends on the client – in some cases, the client does/will see the adviser in such terms. E.g. some of the clients I work with have never worked and they are in their late 30s+ and some of them would regard an adviser as a role model/authority figure/privileged…b) Words can and do make an impact – what is said, how it is said and whom says it makes a difference (as indeed what is NOT said).c) The client and adviser are engaging and exchanging. People can and do remember others’ advice, especially if it is (implied to be) critical. Much of the criticism of careers advice/sers, I think is around this issue. That is, people recall when they were not encouraged.I think what some clients want, and indeed I want is for careers guidance to re-balance some of the unfairness. To help all – those who have the social capital to utilise it effectively, and those who do not, to gain access to it.Thanks for your response.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s