Thursday, July 10, 2008

Life's Not Fair (so deal with it) by Jenny Gardiner

One time years ago I was moaning to a girlfriend about a particularly unfair course of events. It was something that was absolutely wrong. The perpetrators should have apologized, but never did. It vexed me to no end. "It's just not fair!" I whined to her.

She looked me straight in the eye and said this: "Life's not fair. Deal with it."


But the more I thought about this, the more I realized she was right. Deal with the what is, not the what should be.

I've been trying to impart this wisdom to my oldest regarding his college admission. For those of you in the dark, this was the worst year ever to try to gain admission into college. The baby boom echo---the progeny of us baby boomers---peaked this year, with far too many of them.These, the overachieving spawn of the quintessential baby booming overachievers, rendered college admissions a practice in arms build-up. The armament, of course, being the far-too-many ridiculous levels of accomplishments these kids needed to achieve in order to land themselves a spot in the university of their choosing.

Alas, my child didn't quite discover the cure to cancer, so the ivies were out. Thank goodness, as we hadn't budgeted for them. But he was beyond qualified for pretty much everywhere he applied. Very high GPA, strong SAT scores. A litany of accomplishments that would put my entire generation to shame when we were that age. He earned scholarships---exclusive ones, ones that only a small handful of kids in the nation earned. Commendations out the wazoo.

And yet still, it wasn't enough to gain admission into the school of his dreams. A state school, no less, a school that would have been damned lucky to have someone like him, a wonderful combination of kind, clever, well-rounded, charming, funny and endearing, along with intellectually-inclined (I know I sound like a treacly boastful mother. But it's true!). He's a bright kid with actual social skills--always a plus in my opinion.

So instead of attending the school he'd dreamed of attending for the past five years, he's going to a different school, one he'd not really entertained much notion about. He's earned a scholarship there, so it's all good. Only it's not all good in his eyes. I think his rejection triggered a deep-seated anger him: Hey, I did what I was supposed to. I played the stupid game. I went to great lengths. I killed myself studying, playing varsity sports, heading up academic team, Model UN, and a host of other groups in which I was involved. I was a scholar at my school, took two college classes (and scored high A's at that very university which shunned me). I took 13 freaking AP classes. I got all 4's and 5's on my AP exams, even. I did what I was supposed to. It's not fair.

And you know what? It's not fair. It sucks, in fact. Everything about it sucks. And probably sucks more to know that in five short years, experts say these very colleges that had the luxury of refusing phenomenal students will be begging for those same types of students. He has every right to be angry about this situation. Hell, I feel bitter about it.

But the reality of this story is this: that's life. And life's not always fair. Justice was not served in this situation. But guess what? Life's not fair. Deal with it.

This is the message I'm trying to impart to my wonderful firstborn. The one who felt so empowered and ready to take the world by storm until being socked with this rejection and is now feeling an overwhelming sense of "what the hell?" Instead of empowered, he feels rejected, even though rejection isn't quite what happened to him. Screwed? Sure. Totally hosed? You bet. But tell that to a 17-year old. To him, he was rejected.

Tomorrow we head down to orientation to a school that is not only welcoming him with open arms, but embracing him powerfully. That has invited him into their honors program, their honors dorms, will grant him privileges far beyond those of the average student at that school. And yet in his youthful world of narcissism (yep, find me a teen who isn't, ultimately, all about themselves) he can't see all of this. He can only see what he didn't get, even though in truth, what he did end up with is ultimately far better.

And so all I can remind him is sure, you got screwed. No two ways about it. But things usually work out for a reason. And you know what? Life's not fair. Deal with it. And I only tell you this because I love you.


Barb McKone said...

I can relate! College entry was a horrible process-- aren't you glad it's over and they're decided and moving on? On to the college section at Target and student loans. Five weeks to go. And you're right. Life isn't fair, and the sooner they get it, the sooner they can get on with it-- but it does seem like your son got screwed.

HRH said...

This was a mantra at my house growing up. To the point that if either of my parents opened up their mouths my brother and i would shout, "we know life isn't fair!". And it isn't. And it is. Most likely things do happen for a reason and he will have his fair share, but not in the way he thought. Wow. That sounded all mommy-knows-best and deep for this early in the morning. Oh, and I am here before Kalynne so I thought I should try for something that sounded kinda smart. I hope I didn't misspell anything. That would totally ruin it.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Yup, life's not fair--but it's so much harder when it's a situation like this. Here's hoping the orientation weekend goes well--I'm sure he'll end up having a great four years, but it's not always easy to see right now.

Daisy said...

Gosh, that's tough on him. My daughter had to make a quick choice between two schools or lose a $200 deposit; she was nervous, but her choice worked out. Fair? No. But she's thriving where she is. I hope your son can do the same.

Julie Layne said...

When I was in college, my psych professor said something I've used with my kids. When his kids said something wasn't fair, he responded with, "What is fair?"

This doesn't necessarily work in a situation like your son's, because he needs sympathy and "Yeah, it's not, it sucks," but boy, it really stops the kids when they are griping over us not being fair!

In our imperfect world, there really is no such thing as fair, ever. Something will always tip the scales one way or the other.

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver said...

Julie--I love that concept "what is fair?" (Sounds like a question Kalynne would ask!).
Barb--I am so glad that is over (till the next kid has to apply!).
HRH--very funny the family mantra! I appreciate your deep thoughts so early!
Judy--I think you're so right, it's just so hard to see it in the short term. I do hope you're right that he'll love it...
Daisy--I'm so glad you'r daughter's thriving!

Anonymous said...

I'm a writer but every fall I offer seminars for high school seniors called 'Tell Me Your Story' where I help them write their college essays. They all say the same thing, 'I have nothing interesting to write about' and yet always, and this is my promise to them, they walk away with something they can be proud of - a quick look-see at their life. Life isn't fair. Some of the best students I know did not get in to their No. 1 college choice (which is why I always tell them to apply to several). And at 18 it is very disappointing. I'm a baby boomer and have 2 1/2 graduate degrees, yet when I see the challenges young people face today, I wonder if I would have gotten into college at today's standards. My grandmother said this to me when I was a teenager so I'll pass it on: 'There will always be someone prettier and smarter than you so you better figure out what you're good at and work really hard.' Tell your son for me we are always recreating ourselves throughout life - making minor and major tweaks, readjusting to life's hitting-below-the-belt whammies. And every time, we have to pick ourselves up and try even harder. My husband has this favorite saying: 'A mediocre person is always at his best.' Make every day your best, smile and try harder. Lots of love to you, young man, at this new juncture in your life. It's going to be GREAT!...Mary Kennedy Eastham, Author, 'The Shadow of a Dog I Can't Forget' and the upcoming novel, 'Night Surfing'

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver said...

Hi Mary! Thanks for stopping by and thanks for those great words of advice. It really is insane, what kids these days are expected to achieve. And ironic, isn't it, that mediocrity isn't an option if you want to be anything other than mediocre LOL
You are so right--we are constantly having to reinvent ourselves and to pick up, dust off and slog on through.

devilish southern belle said...

Wow, I'm irritated for him, too! But you are right about things happening for a reason, and this school that he hadn't even entertained attending? It may be the best, most wonderful thing to ever happen to him. I hope so!

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver said...

I think (and hope!) you're right, DSB!