You Can’t Have It All: The Perils of Entitlement
This is another one of those, “Yeah, I know that” points that most of us, in fact, resist. In other words, we agree in principle that “we” can’t, but “I” assume that “I” can.
Believe it or not, the idea of entitlement is a recent phenomenon. Honestly striving for success, on the other hand, is a cornerstone of the West. To use an American analogy, there’s always been a belief in the Horace Greeley / Horatio Alger myth: “If I ‘go West,’ I’ll conquer the world, turning rags-to-riches.” We’ll leave aside the part about killing any non-white person in the way. Pretty much all of us in North America “got here” because our forebears believed this idea.
I believe it too. Hard work, much more often than not, pays off. Education, more often than not, pays off. Focus and commitment… well, you get it.
Where all of this ran off the rails was after the Second World War. From out of the depths of despair that was the “dirty hirties,” the trenches, and the return to “normalcy,” came the stunning idea that the American Dream was there for the receiving. (Notice I didn’t “earning.”)
Entitlement replaced honest toil and striving. We saw the myth played out on television shows like Father Knows Best. I’m old enough to remember watching that show—the mischievous kids, who got into trouble, took their issues to Dad, watched him light his pipe and spout wisdom and smoke in equal measure. Mom would flit in, crinoline crinkling, with a cup of coffee, and a “Now, dear … ‚” and offer her two cents worth. Successful in business, happily married, and the perfect parent of exactly one boy, one girl, both “just great!”
You see, a seed was being planted in the collective psyche. Because of the wealth and the jobs that were available after the war, it seemed that indeed everything was possible. We saw this fictionalized family and thought it was real. A couple of generations of us thought it was our right to be successful in all arenas.
We tried to have it all. There was an immediate time crunch, so we threw “stuff ” at our spouses and kids, to make up for the lack of communication and “face time.” What we created was the monster we may never be able to kill—entitlement.
The children growing up in this mess did not know hardship, although the parents experienced it. The parents were Depression babies or teens, and they had seen the other side. This was not going to happen to their kids!
Most parents, to this day, fear hardship for their children. I was watching Dr. Phil the other day. He was talking to a 27-year-old who was jobless, girlfriend-less, and living with his mommy. He spent his day playing the guitar.
Dr. Phil asked Mom (who would be a child of a child of the Depression) why she didn’t kick him out so he’d learn to stand on his own two feet.
She replied, “I don’t want him living under a bridge.”
Dr. Phil replied, “Better now than when he is 40!”
Son smirked throughout. He knows Mom isn’t going to kick his sorry ass out. Besides, he imagines that he has rights—her house is his house, and he’s entitled to sit on said ass and be looked after.
Dr. Phil suggested he spend a full working day looking for work.
Quoth Son, “You sound just like my mom!” Smirk.
I wanted to slap him across the face. I got so disgusted I turned off the set.
Entitlement is the expectation that I deserve to be given special treatment, and that I deserve to be given whatever I think I need. And even more deadly—that all of this is my birthright.
I can’t tell you how many clients have come in, totally frustrated, because “It’s not working out right!” They expected to be happy—happily married, with great children and a terrific career, cars, houses, stuff, and lots of free time to enjoy it. And, by God, it’s not happening! The kids have problems, the spouse is sleeping on the couch, work is a drag, the boss is a jerk, and the roof leaks on the mortgaged-to-the-hilt house.
Big sigh, pained look, and a shake of the head. Then, the head lifts, eyes lock on mine, and verbally or non-verbally I hear, “Fix it!”
You may have gathered that I think that the “fix,” such as it is, is persistent self-responsible behaviour. There is no magic cure, no course you can take, no book you can read (including this one!) that will “make it all better.” There is no “it” to make better. There is my life, and there are my choices. And one of the hardest ones is this: “What will I choose to focus on, this time around?”
There are not enough hours in the day to be successful at everything. People who put careers first will have issues in their marriages or with their children. Etcetera, etcetera. If I focus on self-development and self-knowing, other things will have to take a back seat.
It’s hard enough to learn to do any one of these options well, let alone have the expectation that all areas should work out, somehow with minimal effort. And yet, that’s what I hear. “I don’t want a hassle when I get home. I work hard. (S)he should understand and cut me slack.” And (s)he is thinking the same thing. And the kids, God bless ’em, having had stuff tossed at them out of guilt by under-involved parents, expect the world—and parents’ schedules—to revolve around them. Now, can you guess why, when the precious little dears become adults, they don’t want to move out, or if they do, expect to be looked after and coddled by their partner, their teachers, their boss?
The way out of this mess is to take a big step back. We have friends we consider excellent parents. Their 14-year-old skates. When she wants to do something else, they say, “Great! We’ll cancel the skating lessons, and you can do that!” She sighs and drops the new request, because she loves skating. They insist she focus and do well. Entitlement crashes on the floor in their house, regularly.
What a concept! Pick something and actually do it until you are proficient at it! Reward your children with your presence and involvement, as opposed to “stuff.” Spend daily, quality time with your significant other, in actual dialogue. Expect to look after yourself, not to be doted upon.
In short, get over yourself, get off your ass, and get a life. Happiness is not your right, and no one owes it to you, and… here it comes… it’s earned!
Or I guess you could go live with your mommy.