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.
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.
Related: Are You Dirt? Then Stop Letting People Walk All Over You
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!
Related: Three White Tenants, One Asian Landlord: A Story About Opportunity
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.
Related: Your X-Factor Is Key To Being Rich, Happy, And Free
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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Peter Duncan says
hi we have just been taken to court by our council for their breach of a sale and purchase agreement. It was over a damn fence the court ordered the fence be built and they built a fence a different height to what was ordered the court has been less than helpful as to getting application forms no surprises there! So this all went on nearly a year later than it should. So I did as you suggested change the game and i stopped paying vehicle licence in protest and got pulled up for 10km over and no vehicle licence. I now have a free court hearing to state if the police and court and council all broke the rules then so too it should be for me. I have the evidence to prove all this so the judge has to go over 18 months of a civil court mess for a $30 ticket hahaha I am prepared to spend 150 after court costs get added but They are going to need a week or more to go through everything. Worth every cent.
Getting screwed by late substitutions in softball leagues is older than any of us. I’ve had a few years of winning the top seed in a regular season only to get to the postseason and lose to a last-place team that suddenly has a whole new “tournament roster”.
Now if you really want to offend people, bring up something else I’ve seen recently – men playing as women in coed leagues. They know no one can question them!
Thank you for your articles, Sam. I’ve been bummed cuz I was rejected for a loan recently after the appraiser made some comments that made me think sexism, and the loan officer has been God-awful ignoring my calls and emails. Your writing helped lift my spirits. I can always try again with another bank. Thanks for helping me keep perspective.
Financial Samurai says
Bummer. You should bring up the comments by the appraiser to his supervisor. They need to be professional and respectful. Good luck with getting a new loan.
Max Power says
Robert Kraft (Patriots owner) was friends with Roger Goodell (NFL Commissioner) so he thought he would get off easy on Deflategate. But Roger dealt a huge punishment to the Patriots because the other owners wanted revenge for Spygate when the Patriots got off easy. Tom Brady thought Robert and his coach Bill Belichick would stick up for them, but they both ended up not defending him at all; probably because they didn’t want the NFL to go after them personally. This was the main reason Brady left the Patriots. He went to Tampa Bay and won the Super Bowl. Lots of lessons related to this article from this fiasco.
David @ Filled With Money says
It’s absolute BS that you HAVE to play office politics. I’m sure there was a lot more of playing office politics in banking but the fact that this exists everywhere is BS.
Whenever I read my job description “playing office politics” never seemed to show up as a bullet point. But it’s a part of everyone’s job to actually play office politics. That takes time away from doing the job that you were actually hired and paid to do. If office politics were banned, not only would companies enjoy more productivity, employees can work less with the increase in productivity.
I can’t wait until I leave corporate America and strike it out on my own to never have to play office politics ever again!
Financial Samurai says
You gotta do it. If you don’t do it, you will be at a disadvantage to the person who does. The key is to be the highly skilled office politician where nobody can really tell you are playing office politics.
And you are right. Being your own boss is wonderful in regards to office politics. But all the responsibility is also on you! But that’s just the way I like it.
I’m a fierce competitor and I hate to lose. But even though you were royally screwed you did the right thing. You took the higher ground and you were the man of honor. It’s a credit to you. I agree that next time you can offset this, but this time you had no good options. As a guy who had faced anti-asian prejudice you know life is often unfair, yet you came through this with your integrity unblemished. That is inspirational to me. I think you were the better man by far, Sam. When a winner can accept an unfair loss, he’s a true example of masculinity and maturity. I’m glad you posted this, it’s a very vulnerable look inside a very honorable person.
Financial Samurai says
Thanks Steve. Appreciate it. The loss is what it is, and I’m interested in seeing if anything changes going forward. What the new rule will be in the future for a substitute will show the organizers their true thoughts on what occurred. Very intriguing.
I also think it’s interesting to explore the morality after everyone knows all the facts.
What I am reminded about wrt this 33-34 loss is that a main reason why people don’t try is because it can be too painful or embarrassing to lose. And the more effort you put into something and then get rejected or lose, the more painful it is.
But I feel that overtime, the more you put yourself out there, the more used to the losses and rejections you get. Therefore, you’re able to take more risks and compete better as you gain more experience.
FS, so sorry for the outcome and circumstances. Here are a few quotes. Hope that a kernel of wisdom peeks out at you, here. Glad you are still relatively injury-free and hoping you stay that way.
“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing” – Red Sanders
“It’s not that you won or lost but how you played the game.” – Grantland Rice
“The most important thing is not winning but taking part” – Pierre de Coubertin, founder of modern Olympics
“Pain is Temporary, Regret is Forever” – every coach ever
“Besides your closest friends and loved one’s, it’s every man for himself in this world.” – Felix Dennis
Financial Samurai says
Injury-free is key! It’s always funny when I hear the young guns or the guys without children tried people for not diving or not sliding or not running 100%. Little bit I realize that every parent is injured, that makes childcare much more difficult. I’m not about to blow out of me when my daughter is 18 months old and needs to be constantly supervised. Priorities!
But man, there have been some bad hops to the face, some dislocations, a broken foot, getting beaned in the head, and so forth. Dangerous sometimes!
Even just today, instead of playing softball, I played tennis because I couldn’t get into today’s game. Neighbor in court had a guy trying to hustle for a drop shot and he ended up screaming in pain because he pulled his hamstring.
Brings to mind an exchange from the 1980s ‘Late Night with David Letterman’ show, that has taken on richer meaning in just the past few years…
Bill Cosby: “I was playing tennis, mixed doubles, and pulled a hamstring.”
Seems like the least the other organizers should do is recognize the game wasn’t played fairly. But when you’re on the winning team, it’s hard to ever admit you had an unfair advantage.
It’s like people being born on 3rd base and think they hit a home run when they really only hit a single. Those people are annoying.
Financial Samurai says
A perfect analogy! The tendency to attribute success to our skill and our misfortune to bad luck.
My favorite is when people at work act like they’re trying to collaborate with you but then they end up stealing your ideas and presenting them as their own. Good times : )
Financial Samurai says
Ah, how I miss those workplace backstabs! Just kidding.
I wonder if things are now more competitive than ever.
Oh sorry to hear about the screwed over. I play softball league and it is clear your opponents had an unfair advantage.
But I think you’re right that’s really smart to draft the organizers to get that competitive edge. And if you have a bunch of new people, they won’t want to rock the boat and stand up for what they think is unjust.
The power / balance dynamic at work is one of the reasons why there are so many lawsuits and why HR encourages bosses not to date their coworkers. And if they do take their coworkers to disclose for liability reasons.
I recently got screwed by my contractor who claims no-fault for shotty work he did on my roof. The roof started leaking and he wasn’t on willing to come back and fix it for free after he just put it on 12 months ago.
Financial Samurai says
Got to recruit the power! I hope things work out with your contractor. Mine is still not finishing my project that he started almost a year ago now.
Oh man that sucks about your game. I would be PO’d if that happened to me.
I got screwed over when I was passed up for a promotion due to office politics. I was basically told I was gonna get it and then they pulled the rug at the last minute because of some bureaucratic bs.
But the positive was it motivated me so much to ensure I got both a good raise and a promotion six months later.
And it also helped plant a seed that later helped me negotiate a severance (thanks to your book!) and walk away amicably with money in my pocket. That was one of the best decisions of my life!
Financial Samurai says
I’m glad you finally got promoted and we’re able to leave with a severance!