Aloha gang! It’s good to be back… Tay and I recently went on a surf trip to Fiji and then I spent another week and a half visiting family in California. In my travels I was able to have some good heart-to-hearts with some amazing people. During these conversations with both my close friend and new found foreign friends one particular issue kept emerging, and that is our generation’s ever-increasing sense of entitlement.
Let’s quickly define what we’re talking about here. Entitlement is, “the fact of having a right to something” or, “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.” Don’t we see this everywhere? I see it in the ER on a daily basis. People who behave in such a way that they might as well be wearing a sign that says, “It’s all about me.” It seems to be devastating to some people that they have to wait to be seen because someone else is much sicker and takes priority. I’ve had people storm out because we were too busy trying to save the life of a young woman who had a massive brain aneurysm to look at their earache right this moment. I have a thousand similar stories. But there are many more subtle ways that entitlement rears its ugly head in our culture… such as the belief that we deserve to get rich quick. Many feel they deserve to have money, but don’t want to put in the time, work, and schooling required to get a good career. Our culture is neck-deep in jealousy and comparison because we want (and feel entitled to) the “perfect life” that someone else has. Many able-bodied young people live off of others and feel no guilt about not contributing to society, while they happily accept handouts from anyone willing to give them out.
I recently ran across a great Mark Twain quote, “The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” Media and marketing feeds us the opposite. They have honed in on people’s natural selfishness. “You deserve this,” is the message we are bombarded with. Entitlement is being taught to our youth and continues into almost every facet of adulthood. Everyone gets a trophy, no child is left behind, and every addiction is now a disease. Nothing is our fault. There is no sense of personal responsibility. Perfect! If I’m already a winner, then why work at it? If I’m going to pass this class no matter what, why put in the effort? If it’s just who I am, why change?
Symptoms are always an outward sign of an inward problem; manifestations of an underlying disease. As a nation we are are generally obsessed with “quick fix” answers to our problems. This is just a symptom of our entitlement. When it comes to fitness, everyone wants to be lean and ripped, but with minimal work or discomfort. We are obsessed with our own comfort. Humans have never suffered less in the history of the world. We have pills for everything; modern healthcare and medications spare us from most types of pain. Most of us, myself included, don’t really have a clue what real pain is. For getting into shape, there just isn’t a quick fix. If someone is telling you there is, they are probably trying to sell you something. We are gong to have to put in the work. Let me bring it closer to home (I’m guilty of this myself)… Some of us workout really hard for a week and get angry and frustrated that we don’t suddenly look like Jillian Michaels. We want big results immediately. We eat healthy for about five seconds and wonder why we haven’t lost that stubborn fat… “Its just not fair!!” we think as we envy some other woman on Instagram. Jealousy is a sure sign that we have an entitlement problem.
I love athletics. Serious, intensive physical training is so good for us. It strips away all the narcissistic delusions and exposes our shortcomings, comfort zones, and weaknesses and forces us to deal with them. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Our weaknesses and flaws are there whether we acknowledge them or not. They won’t go away or change until we can be honest with ourselves and move forward. I learn so much about my mental and physical weaknesses through difficult workouts. When we are willing to suffer and put in the work day after day, we acknowledge we aren’t perfect (or inherently deserving). We train our weaknesses, get better, and build confidence. It keeps us humble.
Another, more important way that entitlement is plaguing us, in in our relationships. In America, about half of marriages end in divorce. We have insanely high rates of adultery and unhealthy relationships as well. Our culture tells us at every turn, “You deserve…. for your needs to be met, to be happy, to feel loved (all the time).” “You are perfect just the way you are.” But is that based in reality? That kind of fairytale nonsense leads to entitlement, selfishness, and an unforgiving attitude. Do you believe you are perfect? That you never do anything wrong? That you have no flaws? No room to grow or change? I doubt any of us really believe that, but we act like it. No partner is perfect. We all have bad days and flaws. We screw up; we hurt each other. If we believe we deserve someone who makes us feel happy all the time, never hurts us, and treats us perfectly, then we are going to jump ship as soon as those conditions are not met. And do any of us realistically love others that way? I know I don’t. Our partner has needs too, and if we spent more time considering their needs and focusing on how to love them better, instead of focusing on how to get the love we deserve and need, we might find a lot more peace and happiness in our relationships. If we spent half as much time looking at our own mistakes as we do at our partner’s… we would be humbled, and probably be much more forgiving, gracious, and grateful. Gratitude is the enemy of entitlement. It’s very difficult for the two to coexist.
It’s easy to see entitlement in others, or in society as a whole, but we need to take a hard look in the mirror. The key is to have a realistic view of yourself. As silly as it sounds, don’t we delete all the bad pictures of ourselves? We would rather believe that we always look like we do in our most flattering selfie. We love to think of ourselves in the best light. Good community will help cure this. Surround yourself with loving, honest friends, and you won’t be able to delude yourself for very long… they won’t let you! We are not perfect. Sometimes we are selfish, we make bad choices, and our choices affect the people around us. That’s a true story. (And I’m not saying that we should all resolve to self-hate or tolerate abuse from others. It’s important to appreciate our value and know our strengths, but given our current predicament I think most people have swung too far to the other end of the spectrum). When we begin to see ourselves more realistically, we can take responsibility, admit our shortcomings, and seek out ways to change or make things right.
Another way we combat entitlement is by setting goals and working hard towards them. Resist the urge to take the easy way, complain, and cut corners. Don’t set goals flippantly. Think realistically about what you will need to do to accomplish your goal, and accept the challenge. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable! Some things in life are going to be really hard, but they are worthwhile. A good friend and incredible educator was recently telling me that by giving kids a “great job!” and a trophy for every little thing, we have created a generation of quitters. She said that what is so much more effective is telling a child, “This assignment is going to be really hard, but I think you can do it!” That way, they have a realistic understanding of what’s required, but they know you believe in them and that they have the skills to accomplish the task if they work hard! We should be thankful when we face challenges, they humble and mature us; growing us in perseverance and strength. A friend that I made traveling was telling me about these long trail races he does, including an upcoming 98km race, and he said, “I’m not the best athlete or the fittest person. I’m just really determined.” I was taken aback by his humility and work ethic! It was refreshing.
I’ll also argue that we need to see more of the world. Traveling reminds us quickly that the world doesn’t revolve around us. Going to third world countries and seeing people who have suffered things we cannot imagine will quickly cure our sense of entitlement. We didn’t choose where we were born, or in what era. We ought be overwhelmed with thankfulness to be born into a first-world country. I also think we need to listen to our elderly population. For them, life wasn’t all about having fun. The things they have lived through, seen, and suffered has led them to a very different mindset than we hold. They suffered through many ailments without a lot of the quick fixes we have today. Hard work, struggle, and difficulty was expected, not the exception.
I hope you are with me in committing to weeding out entitlement in our lives. It chokes out gratitude and humility if we leave it. An attitude of entitlement makes us narcissistic, mediocre, unsatisfied, demanding, and lazy in our fitness, relationships, and lives. We want to leave it behind and seek to be humble, responsible, hardworking, content, and grateful!
Britt is an ER nurse on Oahu. She loves to workout, hike, and above all enjoys being challenged by the surf that the North Shore has to offer. She's always down for a new adventure and loves to travel.