Fair Is Just A Four-letter Word

2010 February 18

Hate To Break It To You is a recurring feature wherein we dispense succinct home truths that everyone could benefit from facing up to, unpleasant as they may be.

This one goes out to everyone who’s ever been hella pissed off at the story of the Prodigal Son.

Life is not a meritocracy. I’ve been meaning to tell you that for a while (and it’s not as if I haven’t hinted at it before), but I recently saw Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins* and the whole theme of the ugly truth of the American Dream not panning out for everyone reminded me that, yeah, input and output aren’t always aligned.

Photo by kevinthoule

Hard work and talent and eating all of your vegetables without complaint and wanting it so much that it’s all you can think and even breathe about doesn’t always pay off. Well, what does then? Nepotism, luck, right place at the right time, cleavage, the ability to convince middle-aged women that you find them sexually desirable, sociopathy, good hair and teeth, shrewdly reading and manipulating the zeitgeist like the Wizard of Oz, ruthlessness, coquetry, singleminded self promotion, selling your soul, being all things to everyone, etc, etc. If there was a surefire recipe, wouldn’t we all be in the kitchen whipping up a batch of personal glory right now?

People who are less talented, less awesome, more venal and more vapid than you will sometimes get what you want. Ain’t that a kick in the head? Attempting to beat these folks at their own game is not only likely to prove futile, it will leave you feeling frustrated and slightly soiled. I also don’t recommend that you let resentment about this inequality of opportunity fester inside of you and warp you into a Charlie Brown sad sack or a gun-toting academic.

The conventional path to the top is pretty much gridlock as far as the eye can see. You can join the traffic jam, but forget about getting anywhere or doing anything more productive than staring at the bumper of the car in front of you for the next 20 years (not to mention feeling irrationally pissed off that they have a pair of neon pink fuzzy dice dangling over their rear view mirror). If you want to move forward, you’re going to have turn off the ignition, lock the doors behind you and start out on foot. Forget competing with the seeming golden children, you’re going to have to carve out your own opportunities, make your own map to a place that you’ve invented, hack a shortcut through the woods with a homemade machete or  start as small as launching a blog for your writing after receiving the 17th rejection letter from a major publishing house. It’s tough and there’s no guarantee of the pay-off, but if the only other option is fighting blind luck and a hoard of post-modern P.T. Barnums, it might just be your best bet. Sure beats shooting the President (sorry, Sondheim).

* Skip it, unless your John Wilkes Booth is as natty a dresser as ours was and your Sam Byck is a dead ringer for my (imaginary)  indie pop boyfriend. Heck, even then you can still give it a pass.

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