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10 Things in Life That Aren’t Fair – and What to Do About Them (Part 1 of 2)

10 Things in Life That Aren’t Fair – and What to Do About Them (Part 1 of 2)

10 Things in Life That Aren’t Fair – and What to Do About Them

    “Who ever said life is fair? Where is that written? Life isn’t always fair.” – Grandpa, The Princess Bride

    Life’s not fair. Our thought processes are controlled by brains that are not always strictly rational. Social and economic forces beyond our control can toss us like plastic bags in the wind. Physical appearances play as large a role, if not larger, in the way we regard others – and the way others regard us. It’s just not FAIR!

    With a little thought, I came up with 10 things that just aren’t fair, and some ideas about how to deal with them. I’ve deliberately avoided things having to do directly with race, sex, and other forms of discrimination, hoping instead to focus on more universal unfairnesses. Maybe I’ll come back with a follow-up dealing with those issues at a later date.

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    1. Packaging makes food taste better.

    Strange but true – the way food is packaged, from the label design to the size of portions to the texture of the box, affects our perception of how it tastes. (If you’re academically inclined, you could look at this study of how packaging and taste interact.) Roughly speaking, we identify with certain values the packaging conveys, and that predisposes us to feel more or less favorably about what’s inside.

    What to do about it: This is fortunately one of those things where knowing is more than half the battle. Comparing similar foods free of labeling is one way to deal with it – that’s what wine tasters do to avoid biases. And just reminding ourselves not to judge a book – or a food – by its cover helps a lot.

    2. People prefer to do business with people they have relationships with, rather than the ones offering the best deal.

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    We’ll drive miles out of our way to support a local store or a friend’s shop because of the relationship we have with the proprietors. We’ll spend more money on services from friends of friends rather than coldly evaluating all the possible vendors. Again and again, social relationships balance and even outweigh other considerations like cost and convenience.

    What to do about it: Develop your social network! While you should certainly focus on providing value in every other way, developing social relationships will often be the thing that gives you the edge over your competitors.

    3. Many jobs are never advertised. News travels through social networks instead.

    Obviously related to #2 above, this is of major concern given the rough state of employment at the moment. Only a small percentage of jobs are advertised in newspapers and online and even when they are, getting them can still rely heavily on social contacts.

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    What to do about it: Again, get to work on that social network. Use online networking sites like LinkedIn and niche sites in your field (check out the various networks at Ning) as well as attending (or organizing) local events in your industry. Make sure you announce your availability through every channel available to you – most people will at least try to think whether they know anything suitable for you if they know you’re looking.

    4. Attractive people are considered smarter, nicer, and more moral than unattractive people.

    “Attractive” is, of course, subjective, but even so: when someone thinks you’re good-looking, they’re more likely to think you’re a good person than if they find you physically unappealing. And vice versa – you’re more likely to think highly of a person you find handsome or pretty than one you find ugly or even average. (Here’s what psychology has to say about our assessment of attractive people.)

    What to do about it: Well, one option is plastic surgery, dieting, working out, make-up, etc. but that seems pretty pathetic just to get people to think more highly of you. Since confidence is a big part of what makes people find you attractive, work on projecting confidence in yourself. And, of course, make sure whatever you do has merit in its own right. As far as your opinion of other people, try finding ways to see others as attractive whatever their appearance, and remind yourself when you think poorly of someone that you can easily be mislead by the way they look.

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    5. We trust other people, even when we think they’re wrong.

    Oh, the trials of being a social animal! Far too often , we’ll go with the crowd, even when we think the crowd is wrong. The classic example si a psychological study in which several people, only one of which is not in on it, view three lines of different lengths and asked which is the longest. Everyone says the shortest one is longest, until they get to the actual subject, who knows they’re all wrong but agrees with them anyway so as not so make waves. Other examples include people’s willingness to join lines even when they’re not sure what the line is for, and people’s unwillingness to enter restaurants that are empty.

    What to do about it: It’s easy to say “don’t be a sheep” but it’s part of our social nature. We don’t generally want to rock the boat – it’s socially dangerous, and can even be physically dangerous at times. The best we can do most of the time is ask ourselves what, exactly, we have to gain from following other people’s leads. The point isn’t to avoid doing what other people are doing, but to avoid doing it because other people are doing it. If we can determine that we’d do something whether or not others did it, then enjoy!

    Be sure to check out part 2 when it’s posted later in the week for more unfair facts of life, including the difference that height makes! And tell us below about the unfair situations you’ve dealt with, and what you did about them.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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