A huge part of finding success in work and life is acknowledging that you have something to learn, not only from the world but also from others. When we fail to realize that, entitlement rears its ugly head. We end up believing we deserve privileges or special treatment inherently. Entitlement is essentially a “you owe me” attitude. It can occur as a result of the way we were raised, the way we grew up in society, how authority treats us, and more.
We’ve all known entitled people. Most entitled people are in a perpetual state of unhappiness, conflict, disappointment and depression. They walk around the world only seeing the bad, instead of appreciating the good. These are symptoms of ingratitude.
The question is, how often do we acknowledge our own entitlement?
Think about the last time you were in conflict with someone. Often, when we are in conflict with others, we look at ourselves in one of two ways: as superior or as a victim.
When we feel superior, we imagine ourselves to be more important, virtuous and in the right. Meanwhile, we see the other party as inferior, morally questionable and flat-out wrong. As a result, we are impatient and disdainful. While it may feel good to see yourself as better than someone else in the short-term, it can lead to more tension, as well as disappointment and unhappiness.
We can also walk through the world feeling like a victim—unappreciated and mistreated by those we encounter. We may believe what we’ve been through is bigger than what others have experienced, making us feel deprived and resentful. We convince ourselves that our trauma is the biggest trauma anyone in our community has experienced, and we are thus deserving of special attention. The world appears to be both unjust and to owe us something. That’s where that “I deserve” mentality comes in, which can be damaging to our motivation and success in the long run.
Both of these mindsets produce entitlement.
Our self-perspective—and thus our sense of entitlement—develops in a variety of ways. Some of us grow up expecting that life will look a certain way. We believe that we’ll accomplish everything we desire, and we’ll be showered with accolades along the way. These messages are reinforced by the culture we’re a part of and the media we consume—movies, books and social media. They are reinforced by our parents, awards through school and sports, and the prophecies in our yearbook superlatives. We become so used to our visions of what our lives will be like that we expect that they’ll happen almost automatically. We believe we’re entitled to these visions.
Gratitude creates humility, which is essentially the opposite of entitlement.Giving gratitude is the act of acknowledging that you’ve received some sort of benefit in your life from someone else.That acknowledgment reinforces the fact that you didn’t get here alone and shifts the focus to the people who have helped you along the way.
When we are humble, we acknowledge that while we may have great abilities, we must rely on others—and we think about those people first. It’s impossible to feel like you are better than others when you acknowledge the good people have done in your life. On the flip side, it’s impossible to feel less than others when you acknowledge that others have wanted to participate in a positive manner in your life.
Adam Grant writes about “otherish” people in his book, Give and Take. Otherish people are givers; they want to help others. But that doesn’t mean they don’t care about themselves. In fact, he explains that “they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests.” Maintaining this posture of otherness can help reorient our perspective by identifying what it means to live generously in a sustainable manner to others, rather than just for ourselves—without losing awareness of what we need.
The result? Success without entitlement is more fulfilling and sustainable for you and could be better for society. In other words, it’s otherish.
As a creator or leader, consider the following questions and actions:
• Reflection: How do you feel when you spend time around an entitled person?
• Reflection: When have you experienced feeling superior in a situation of leadership or creativity? What might have been available if you had adopted a posture of gratitude and humility instead?
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• Action: Write down two names of people you feel a sense of entitlement toward, either because you feel superior to or less than. Reach out to them this week from a place of humility and tell them a few things you’ve learned from them or how they’ve impacted your life.
Our ability to tap into gratitude can guide us toward success—without us wandering down the path of entitlement.