There is no “Fair Fairy” in life

Dark Cordial PIXABAY tug of war

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

In the year 2000, I started working in the field of hospice palliative care.

That experience was more profoundly educational than any university course I’ve ever taken, any book I’ve ever read, any personal growth workshop I’ve shelled out money for.

And the biggest lessons I learned over these years stemmed from one simple truism:

“There is no ‘Fair Fairy’ in life.”   

In end-of-life care, we see unfair things happening day in and day out, and so pretty soon we learn that life is indeed not fair. Full stop. Period. End of discussion.

I was reminded there every day just how true this was when, for example, we had a 19-year old admitted to our inpatient unit who was dying of ovarian cancer. Or a young Mum in her early 30s leaving two tiny toddlers and a distraught husband behind. Or when we watched parents of any age grieving the death of their child, because everybody knows that it’s just not fair for parents to ever outlive their children.

Yet in the ongoing day-to-day drama that is Real Life – like for those of us diagnosed with a chronic and progressive illness like heart disease –  sometimes, like a frustrated pre-schooler comparing the larger size of her big brother’s piece of cake with her own, we want to wail about the unfairness of it all.

I don’t deserve this!

Why me?

Why did this happen?

It’s so unfair.

The annoyingly obvious response may well be best summed up by 11 Rules of Life, often attributed to Bill Gates, which starts off:

“Life is not fair. Get used to it.”

(These rules also prophetically warn, by the way:  Be nice to nerds – chances are you’ll end up working for one!)

As Mike Myatt, a stroke survivor and author of Leadership Matters, wrote in Forbes on the subject of fairness (12/12/2011):

“We all face challenges, and life treats us all unfairly. We all make regrettable choices, and we all suffer from things thrust upon us through little if any fault of our own.

“People have overcome poverty, drug addiction, incarceration, abuse, divorce, illness, victimization, and virtually every challenge known to mankind.

“Life is full of examples of the uneducated, the mentally and physically challenged, people born into war-torn impoverished backgrounds, who could have complained about life being unfair, but who instead chose a different path – they chose to overcome the odds and to leave the world better than they found it.

“Regardless of the challenges they faced, they had the character to choose contribution over complaint.”

But what’s the secret in being able to move towards contribution, when what we really want to do is whine about unfairness?

Mayo Clinic oncologist Dr. Edward Creagan shares his advice on this issue. He describes, for example, these three fundamentals that he warns cannot be ignored if we want to move forward on a life journey towards any semblance of serenity and well-being in life, no matter what happens to us. I like his list:

  • Life is not fair. The good people do not always win. And sometimes the best intentions are misguided or misinterpreted. Recognize your limitations — and those of others — and then move forward as best you can.
  • You are responsible for your actions. Sure, you can complain. You can be critical, but at the end of the day, the buck stops with you.
  • The past is over. The future is not yet here. So today — this moment, this place in time — is all there is. If you continually focus on the rearview mirror of life, if you take your eyes off the road ahead, chances are slim that you will safely reach your destination.

Here’s a hot tip: facing this contextual shift must be a self-imposed act. It’s not something you can shove in somebody’s face by waving in front of them a copy of Dr. Creagan’s handy list of fundamentals. 

And when life has pummelled us into the peat, we may well need time and patience and perspective (coupled with weeping, wailing and feeling very, very sorry for ourselves at first) until we finally feel ready to stop believing in the Fair Fairy.

Sometimes, life stinks. And yes, that’s just not fair.


NOTE FROM CAROLYN:   I wrote more about this fantasy Fair Fairy in Chapter 7 of my book, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease (Johns Hopkins University Press)  – the infamous chapter that the anonymous Johns Hopkins cardiologist who reviewed the manuscript before publication called “irrelevant to female heart patients” – luckily, after my objections, Chapter 7 stayed. You can read it and decide for yourself by asking for it at bookstores (please support your local independent bookseller!) or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon – or order it directly from my publisher Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 30% off the list price).

Q: How have you been able to shift from ‘unfair’ to ‘no Fair Fairy’?


See also:

Post-Traumatic Growth: how a crisis makes life better – or NOT

When you’re having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day

The most dangerous word in the world

Listen up, ladies: 16 things I’ve been meaning to tell you

How expecting recovery can help heart attack survivors

How we adapt after a heart attack may depend on what we believe this diagnosis means

Image: Dark Cordial, Pixabay


11 thoughts on “There is no “Fair Fairy” in life

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  3. Thank you Carolyn – another excellent blog. Most days I think I have come to terms with this, but some days wanting the fair fairy to really exist sneaks back. It is a learning journey.

    Oh, and there is yet another relevant Leonard Cohen quote “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” (love that man, saw him live in a concert a few years ago.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. For me, it took a long time to go from “UNFAIR!” and feeling “emotionally stricken” after an MS diagnosis, to discovering the absolute truth about that “fair fairy”. She does not exist !! and the sooner I accepted that fact, the sooner I could start moving one foot (slowly!) in front of the other to whatever lies ahead in my future. Thanks for this very sound reminder.


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  6. In the words of Leonard Cohen

    “Everybody knows the dice are loaded; everybody rolls with their fingers crossed . . .”

    And yet we cling to the notion that it is true for someone else but not ourselves. Of course, that clinging is the wellspring of our chronic suffering.

    And, yes, I have been and still remain the Queen of Cling.



      1. My favourite Cohen line is : “I ache in the places where I used to play”. I use that line almost every week, at least once! Sorry, this is an aside but I couldn’t resist since I am such a big fan of his.

        Counting my blessings this day; I am so privileged. My life is so much more fair than millions of others…


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