If you don't get screwed now, you will eventually get screwed later. The sooner you accept life isn't fair, the sooner you can make winning decisions and succeed.
Finding happiness is also accepting that fairness is a human construct. If you plan to play someone else's game, then you must accept the game will likely be rigged in their favor, no matter how impartial they try to be.
Let me share a story of how I got screwed recently. This was a low-level screwing that isn’t a big deal. However, based on all the banter that followed in our group chat, I thought it would fun to revisit it and share some teachable moments for more important situations.
Accept That You Will Always Get Screwed
I captained a Memorial Day softball tournament and lost 33-34 in the finals. Ouch. I was defending my title after we last had a tournament in 2018.
Ah, to be a back-to-back tournament champion captain would have been nice! Just like how sweet it was to win back-to-back Northern California High School tennis championships as a coach. Alas, it was not meant to be.
In the very first inning of the championship game, the opponent's catcher got injured. The catcher was an older fella who wasn't a good mover. It's one of the main reasons why he was playing catcher.
Because his finger got dislocated while trying to catch a ball, he could no longer play. As a result, one of the organizers on the opposing team recruited a burly-looking fellow to substitute. He was about 6′ 1″ tall, had a beard, and weighed ~235 pounds. He had the classic look of a power hitter.
But I wasn't sure about the substitution protocol. The decision was quickly made for me by the organizer, who so happened to be on the opposing team in under 30 seconds. Everything was moving so fast I didn't have time to think things through.
As we were playing 10 people on the field and the opposing team's captain only drafted 10, I figured it was the right thing to do to have this random dude sub in. Playing against only 9 players wouldn't have felt fair.
Enter The Ringer
What I didn't realize until after the new substitute hit was that he was replacing the opponent's #7 batter who had a 0.530 batting average and hadn’t played in a long time Batting 7th is usually reserved for mediocre hitters. Further, this was already a weaker-than-normal draft pool. Unfortunately for us, the substitute turned out to be a ringer, going 6-6 and walking once.
Out of the 44 people who played in the tournament, nobody got on base 7 out of 7 times. Going 6-6 and walking is like shooting 40 points and dishing out 12 assists in a playoff basketball game. The substitute turned out to be an All-Star replacing a player long past his prime.
After the substitute's very first hit, I could tell he was very good. I mentioned to the organizer on the opposing team that this didn't seem fair. He didn't respond. Then after the substitute's second hit, I asked the organizer how this was appropriate? He told me to “stop complaining.”
Every time the ringer got on base, my heart sank a little deeper. Because two guys after the ringer came the top of the line-up. And the top of the line-up contained the best hitters who drove him in multiple times.
My team was counting on regularly getting batters in the 7, 8, 9, and 10 spot out. But this never happened with the ringer, who also ended up hitting a bomb triple and several RBIs.
The Importance Of Being A Good Sport
Win or lose, I believe it's important to be a good sport. There were multiple reasons why we lost 33-34, including multiple fielding errors towards the end. I said my peace, congratulated the winning captain, paid the winning captain $5, lamented to my fellow teammates what could have been, and that was that.
When I play sports, sometimes I wake up disappointed after a close loss. But I didn't this time probably because I didn't prepare as much as I normally do. The next day I just went about my business.
I was going to leave well enough alone and just accept that I was a loser who got a little screwed. If you are willing to compete in sports, someone has to win or lose. That's just reality.
The only thing that bugged me was that I couldn't even gain access to the following Saturday's softball game after all the effort it took to captain. Sign-ups start at 8pm. And by 8:01pm all 22 slots were full. That's what happens when people get vaccinated. Demand increases. The winning captain, on the other hand, got an automatic spot.
Someone Important Spoke Up
I had forgotten about the loss when three days later out of nowhere, one of the co-organizers left a message in the group chat with all the other organizers and previous captains. He said the following,
This is not a Meetup management opinion, it is my own personal statement from many years of competitive and social softball playing. Memorial Day Tourney: I must side with Sam. I would be upset also.
If one team has 10 that's an advantage right at the start. Then if a player gets hurt down to 9, you either play with the 9 that brought you there or you get a player from one of the losing teams. There will be an asterisk put on the champions.
Ah, it felt good to finally get some support from the most impartial person in the group chat!
The co-organizer is in his 70s, has played more softball games and tournaments than any of us, and didn't play for either team. He saw things from both sides. He is also the person I respect the most.
Draft Count Matters
I purposefully drafted 11 people in anticipation of someone potentially getting injured. If nobody got injured, I could give the most tired people on my team a chance to rest for up to three innings a game. The three other captains wanted 10 on their roster, not 11.
Thanks to the senior co-organizer's support, it turns out I had the option of battling against a team of 9 instead of a team of 10. In such a scenario, my team would have definitely won. They would have only had three outfielders instead of four. And of course, they wouldn't have had the perfect batter.
But I wouldn't have let the championship game be an unfair fight. Instead, I would have let the captain choose a player we both agreed upon of similar skill level from one of the two losing teams to make it 10 on 10. But there was no time and I was unclear on the protocol.
The esteemed co-organizer's recognition of me getting screwed was good enough for me. After he let us know his thoughts, a massive group chat debate ensued.
Nobody on the winning team saw the esteemed co-organizer's point of view. And the two people on my team in the chat didn't loudly speak up partially because both co-organizers were on the opposing team. For my teammates, strategically it was the right move.
Now, let's move on to some life lessons so that you can get screwed less, and win more!
How Not To Get Screwed So Much
1) Know All The Rules
At the end of the day, I didn't know all the rules, which ultimately hurt the team. I didn't know the captain who only drafted 10 could only play 9 if one of its team members got injured. But the reality is, the rule for what to do in this situation ultimately was not determined. Therefore, if you are to compete, you must come up with as many potential situations as possible and ask the organizers what happens in such situations.
If you don't know all the rules, then you want to side with the people who do know all the rules. You must hire a team of experts in their respective fields. This is why a President has cabinet members and a CEO has other C-level executives. No one person can know everything.
2) Recruit People With Power
Kerfuffles happen all the time in sports, at work, and in business. For example, you sometimes see managers kick dirt at umps for not agreeing with a call. However, it never matters how much a manger complains. The umpire has all the power and will seldom ever overturn his decision due to a complaint. Therefore, your goal should be to recruit the umpires, i.e. the people with the final say.
If I ever captain again, I will try to recruit an organizer of the tournament who has all the power to decide. Because he is the organizer, most players just listen to his final word. People are too afraid to speak up or argue too much against the organizer for fear of being labeled or banned. This X-Factor is crucial for close calls or unusual occurrences.
No matter how impartial we think we are, there's a natural tendency to bend rules in your favor. Even the co-organizer who I thought was always the most fair didn't speak up because he was on the winning team. To the opposing captain's credit, he told us he would purposefully try and recruit the most organizers to gain an edge. And partly due to his draft order, he was able to recruit both co-organizers of the tournament.
Examples Of Recruiting Power
At work, you might want to hire a potential client's son or daughter to win more business. While I worked in banking, many of my classmates were sons and daughters of politicians. It was insightful to get drinks with the Canadian Prime Minister's son or a senior Chinese government official's daughter.
Let's say you were a private secondary school looking to expand. It would be smart of you to invite a senior city official in charge of development planning on your board. It is hard for anybody, especially someone who has power but doesn't make big money, to reject getting recruited to join a board. From there, the private school can get the inside track on many land and building opportunities that may pop up.
Let's say you were a private university always looking to climb up the rankings. Your goal would be to try and admit as many children from extremely wealthy families as possible. You'd be willing to lower the admissions standards in lieu of legal donations in the tens of millions to fund buildings, scholarship, research, and so forth.
The goal of recruiting power is to try and bend the rules in your favor, even by just a little bit. After all, the house always wins in the long run with just a 2% – 5% advantage! Therefore, hats off to the opposing team captain for employing this strategy and getting both co-organizers on his team.
3) Build A Network Of Allies
The majority generally rules, no matter how tight-fisted the rulers are. Therefore, if you can build a network of allies to speak up for you, then you will no longer get bullied or screwed as much. But it takes a social genius over a tremendous period of time to build such a strong support network.
When it comes to Meetup softball, I'm really just trying to have fun and not get injured. I'm an unpopular player to some because I'm not afraid to speak my mind and ruffle some feathers. Although it stinks to lose a close game, it really doesn't matter to me. It's just recreational softball.
However, when it comes to getting paid and promoted at work, getting your kids into private school, or being able to invest in the next hot startup, building a network of allies is huge. There's a reason why rich angel investors and VCs get so much richer. Everybody is scratching each others' backs.
Related: Having Absurd Dreams Is OK
4) Speak The Hell Up
If you see an injustice speak up and do something about it. Remember, discrimination is still not OK if you aren't being discriminated against. Of course, speaking up may have negative consequences for your career due to power imbalances. Therefore, depending on the situation, you must speak up carefully.
Susan Fowler spoke up about the sexual harassment she experienced at Uber. She ultimately lost her job. However, she also gained appreciation by the many women out there who experienced similar uncomfortable circumstances at work.
Susan was named one of Time's People Of The Year in 2017, helped kickstart the #metoo movement, and wrote a book with Penguin Random House called, Whistleblower. I'd say things turned out just fine for Susan. Her positive impact is at least 1,000 greater than her impact working at Uber.
Regarding my championship softball game, I spoke up twice and was told to stop complaining. I spoke up for fairness and for the sake of my team, who was battling hard and also noticed the anomaly of the substitute. If I didn't speak up, I wouldn't have done my job as a captain.
However, if I really felt there was a huge injustice, I would have kept on speaking up. But at the end up the day, no lives would be ruined if my team lost. Again, I realized long ago that life isn't fair.
Besides, I like difficult or unfair challenges. My team was already voted as not being able to get out of the first round. If my team could some how pull off an upset, then the championship would be all the sweeter. And if we lost, then oh well. Nobody expected anything out of us anyway.
5) Refuse To Play The Game
Let's say you feel the game is really rigged. If you have the ability to survive without the game, you might decide the game is not worth playing at all.
Back when I was working in finance, I knew that playing office politics was a must. You must sell yourself 50 percent internally and 50 percent externally (win business) to get ahead. Those who got promoted had to regularly fly to New York City or Hong Kong to “kiss the ring.” And the big boss always hired people with similar backgrounds to themselves.
For example, when the big boss was English, within two years, three Englishmen were promoted to lead teams. When the big boss was Korean, within one year, several Koreans took over the Englishmen's jobs. It's just the way it is.
In 2012, I decided I didn't want to play the game anymore so I left to be my own boss. I got tired of not getting what I felt I deserved. Leaving a healthy paycheck was obviously a risk at 34. However, I believed in my ability to create my own game with Financial Samurai. And you know what? It feels damn good to be my own boss and make my own rules. And given I have no employees, I don't have to worry about screwing anybody else over.
I like putting myself out there because I'm not afraid to lose or fail. Competition is fun! Besides, after failing so many times already, each subsequent failure feels less and less painful. However, if you are utterly disgusted with a rigged system, then refuse to play the game. Make your own game!
Be A Smarter Player And Accept Reality
The world is a brutally competitive and cruel place. Most people are looking out for themselves. If there's an opportunity to bend the rules in your favor, most people probably would. Accept this reality.
The Houston Astros are still the 2017 World Series Champions despite being caught cheating to figure out what the opposing pitchers would throw. The Dodgers ended up losing the series 3-4 and there's nothing they can do about it. I'm not sure anybody in the Houston Astros' organization has admitted to doing anything wrong or winning illegitimately either.
At the end of the day, you've just got to be comfortable with how you play the game. Do you want to play honorably, mostly honorably, slightly dishonorably, or dishonorably? It is almost impossible to change someone's beliefs about what they think is the right thing to do.
At the extreme, Bernie Madoff was able to dishonorably play the game for decades and live a fabulous lifestyle as a result. Although he ended up dying in prison at age 82, he still lived a life most people could have only dreamed of while his victims got screwed.
Be a smarter player. Recognize the realities of the world and act accordingly.
Other Examples Of Getting Screwed
- Bought a defective product that can't be returned.
- Boss's son gets promoted over you, despite having less experience.
- You were born with a disability, but the school makes no accommodations to equal the playing field.
- A freelance client goes out of business and pays all its employees their last month's salary, but not its contractors
- You buy a home with undisclosed foundational issues that cost a fortune to fix.
- You are cut out of your parents’ will, despite taking care of them every day for the last three years of their lives.
- Your company gets bought out and the founders get millions while you get nothing.
- You fight back against bullies online or offline, but are then characterized as a mean person for standing up for yourself.
Readers, what are some ways people rig the game to their favor? Is it too hard to stay impartial if speaking up means lowering your chances of winning, making money, or gaining power? Why do you think there are so many injustices and rigged systems? What are some ways in which you got screwed as well?
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