When Life Isn’t Fair: Coronavirus, Rejections, WiFi, and More

lifes not fair

One of my part-time jobs is working as a writing coach for students who are applying to colleges. This past year I worked with a student who, by any measure, was simply phenomenal. Out of respect for his privacy I’ll leave out any identifying details but this kid was academically perfect. There were no blemishes on his transcript or his score report. He had started his own company by age 16, complete with actual employees and international recognition. He’d been chosen by his classmates to speak in front of a popular visiting world leader. He was philanthropical with his time and money and was one of the most eloquent writers I’ve encountered.

And he was also rejected by every Ivy League institution to which he applied. He did everything right but didn’t receive the reward he sought.

I thought about my own experiences in life. I’ve witnessed colleagues get penalized while others with lesser talent, work ethic, and ethics get praised and promoted. They did everything right, yet the cards didn’t fall in their favor.

At some point in life, we’ll likely all be dealt this lesson. Cliché but true, “life isn’t fair.”

Dealing With the Unfair

I sit here now during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m attempting to facilitate my children’s completion of work sent by their teachers. And I often wonder how much it will matter. Of course we want our children to do well in school so that they will have choices and opportunities, not to mention the fact that we just want them to be knowledgeable about the world in general. But the reality is that these kids might do everything “right” and still be rejected from their dream schools.

Conversely, some kids will receive offers of admission they really never earned. Like life, college admissions isn’t always fair. Often, we so desperately want college admission to be a formula. You take this class, do this research, score this, write this and it will equal an offer. But we don’t live in a country where college admission is formulaic. Our process is intentionally subjective and includes enough obscurity to allow colleges to shape the class they feel will best match institutional objectives.

No one ever promised that college admission was a fair process.

Things Happen for a Reason

The young man — the perfect one who was rejected from every Ivy institution — he was offered admission to some other very reputable colleges. He managed the defeat gracefully sending an email stating that he “never really believed that college decisions could head in any direction until he found himself strapped amidst the chaos.” He said he now realizes the meaning of “things happen for a reason” more than ever. He is now at peace, even excited, about his future at another institution, with a full-tuition scholarship.

I’m humbled by his poise. He sent an email sharing the news of all of his rejections along with appreciation for helping him land somewhere he never intended. I thought about his parents. Were they devastated that their son had learned the lesson that “life isn’t fair” at such a crucial juncture? Or were they immensely gratified that he weathered the rejection with such grace? Maybe both.

I hope they are proud that they’ve raised not only a remarkably smart kid, but someone who seems resilient, even buoyant. I have no doubt this young man will do great things in life — even greater than many of those offered spaces in the Ivy League schools this year.

Just Let the WiFi Hold

So as many of us sit at home trying to figure out how Google Classroom works and hoping our WiFi will support simultaneous Zoom meetings for all our kids, let us also use this experience to help our kids learn other life lessons that will no doubt serve them well later in life. Let’s try to teach optimism in the face of adversity, resilience amongst chaos, and grace in defeat. So whether it be the spring baseball season that wasn’t, the graduation ceremony that became virtual, or the college acceptance that never came, they will be able to successfully navigate the lesson that life isn’t always fair.

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