The curse of entitlement

Boy, I loathe that sense of entitlement. I hate it when other people develop a sense of entitlement. I remember as a young undergraduate making the mistake of calling one of my professors by the first name. (Let’s call him John.)

“Hi, John?” I said. “I have a question.”

Dr. John “Smartipants” Smith removed his glasses from his exceptionally long nose, placed them on the podium, closed his eyes with a deep sigh, and said, “The name is Doctor Smith.”

I almost laughed. (I had enough sense to restrain myself.)

At the time I knew I would never be one of those professors who felt entitled to have everyone bow down to my intellect and call me Dr. Fife.

And then I got my PhD.


The Entitlement Ensnarement

Ok, I admit, after getting my PhD, I told my wife, “For the next two weeks, I want you to call me Dr. Fife every chance you get. I hope by the end of it, I’ll be so sick of hearing it, I’ll never demand anybody call me Dr. Fife again.”

She didn’t, but I got over myself.

Or did I?

Not long after, I was negotiating my benefits package for a company I used to work for. I noticed that they had a two-tiered benefits package and that all my benefits were for the lower tier.

“Um, excuse me,” I said as I sat before the HR director. “I noticed there’s two tiers.”

“Oh yes,” she said, “the top tier is for scientists.”

I shifted in my chair, my eyebrows all a-furrowed and stuff. “Umm….excuse me?”

“Yes, those benefits are for scientists.”

“And what, might I ask, differentiates a scientist from a non-scientist?”

“Well,” she said, “for a position to qualify as a scientist position, it must require a PhD.”

Feeling quite smug, I raised my chin and said, “Well, it just so happens I have a PhD.”

“Yes,” she said, “but your position isn’t of sufficient difficulty to require a PhD.”


My mouth dropped and I felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach. “Excuse me?” I asked.

“Your position doesn’t require a PhD. Granted, you have a PhD, but your position doesn’t require it.”

Apparently, I was overqualified.

And deeply appalled.

I didn’t last long at that job. Want to know why? It was a good job. The pay was great, the work was rewarding, and, aside from the non-scientist-like package, the benefits were great.

So why was I discontent?

Because I felt entitled to more.

A sense of entitlement is the enemy of contentment.

Now, let’s contrast that to another time–one of the few times I got it right.

I was serving as a missionary in the great state of Michigan and in a leadership role (District Leader). With my missionary companion, I was visiting another group of missionaries in a nearby area. All four of us crammed into that tiny apartment, yet there was only space for three to sleep comfortably. One of us had to sleep on the floor.

I deserved to at least sleep on the couch, right? I was, after all, the most senior missionary.

Yet I chose to sleep on the floor with nothing but a blanket and a pillow.

And I’d never slept better.

Do I deserve a green light? Am I entitled to a lane that is not clogged with elderly drivers who travel under the speed limit? Do I deserve kids who obey me unquestioningly because of my vast wisdom and experience?

Am I entitled to have a life free of suffering?

I don’t think so.

The problem with entitlement is that it extends an invitation to anger, frustration, and alienation.

Well, I’m not particularly fond of those feelings.

The more I think of it, the more I realize all of my anger can be traced to a sense of entitlement.

So I’m trying–trying not to feel entitled.

So what’s the solution?

I don’t know. But I suspect part of the problem is we’re so sheltered from the misfortunes of others that we fail to see how fortune (i.e., luck) has played such a role in our own lives. I didn’t deserve my PhD. I was lucky to have had a family who encouraged my blossoming intellect. I didn’t deserve a beautiful wife, I was just lucky enough that she said yes (after three attempts to court her).

What of the man who can’t go to college because he’s supporting his little brothers and sisters because his parents died in a car crash?

What of the woman who wants nothing more than to have a family, but can’t because of a injurious rape?

What of the soldier who wanted to become a firefighter, but now must spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair?

I didn’t earn nothing, man. For my PhD, I paid a price millions would have easily paid had they even had the chance.

I think we all need to spend a bit more time outside of our friends/family/coworker bubble and see what fortunes lady luck allots to those outside our sphere of influence. And perhaps, you’ll meet someone just like you–one with equal intellect, beauty, work-ethic, what have you, who does not have what you have.

And maybe we’ll spend a little less time feeling entitled, and a little more time choosing to sleep on the metaphorical floor.


5 thoughts on “The curse of entitlement

  1. It’s an interesting problem — I know there are many times in my life where I’ve felt entitled to things, and become angry when I don’t get them. And that’s why I think failing is so important — either you get angry and become a jerk, or you grow and learn as a person, and realize that you need to work to do better. When I was in high school, I wrote a novel and queried it. In hindsight, it was really really bad. But I had worked so hard on it — wasn’t I entitled to success? Well, no one wanted it (rightly) and once I put aside my anger and frustration at my failure, I was able to more clearly see all the places I’d gone wrong, and work to improve them for next time. Getting rid of ego and entitlement is such an important key to being happy and succeeding, in my opinion.

  2. I love driving by a church marquee crammed with letters in order to write something like this:


    I chuckle and think, Do they really think this brings in people off the street? Do they move you to the front of the line at the grocery store when you announce that you are “The Reverend Doctor James E. Snogbottom III?” Do they pump your gas faster at the station?

    Your “floor” example made me think back to an old post (which later became a chapter in my book).

    • Excellent post. I wish I had seen that before I wrote mine. Love your definition of humility: fully realizing my right to something, and then willfully giving up that right in order to honor another person.

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