Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘entitlement’

Musings on Success and Gratitude

My friend¬†David Granet¬†posted a little thoughtlet on “success” last year, and it started a very nice conversation about what actually constitutes success and why. Thinking about success may provide us with a platform from which we might think about the other issues that may be orbiting our little personal planets. It’s a nice segue into Thanksgiving as well.

Dave’s post was this: “Successful people have a sense of gratitude. Unsuccessful people have a sense of entitlement.” To parse this one must begin with a definition or at least an understanding of what success is, and equally importantly, what it is not. There are many terms that are often associated with success, things like wealth and power and fame. Is it necessary to have any, or all, of these to be a success? Can you be successful in the absence of any, or all, of these? Where would one fall on the gratitude/entitlement continuum if one were to have any, or all?

This is really tricky, and I’m afraid that when I’m done you will likely have more questions than answers, maybe even more than you had when you started. That may actually be the point now that I think of it. Success probably relates to what I shared previously about “All” or Everything” in that the proper definition of success emanates from within, not without. This I think is what Dave is implying when he makes the distinction based on gratitude vs. entitlement.

Let’s use an example, a very famous example, to try to illustrate this and prompt some thought: Steve Jobs. Mr. Jobs as you know was cut down in the prime of his life by a disease that has no known cause. Was he a success? He was wealthy, famous, and wielded great power both inside and outside his company. He was married to his only spouse, and together they had healthy children (2, if memory serves). A life to be envied, no? One to which many (most?) might aspire.

A deeper dive at least suggests another story, though. It appears that Mr. Jobs, unlike his one great peer Bill Gates, had few if any close friends. Indeed, within his company and his industry he left behind a trail of despair. All one reads about is how hard it was to work with or for him. He won…for sure he won way more than he lost…but did he succeed? Was he successful? I never once read or heard anything from Mr. Jobs that implied that he was grateful for either any of his wins, or any of the spoils of his victories. There were a couple of whispers about an end of life wistfulness about a paucity of connection, though.

I don’t mean to pick on Mr. Jobs, and Heaven knows his family surely misses him. I think his example might soften the “entitlement” part of the equation a bit as I never really got a sense of that from him (as opposed to, say, your favorite rich and famous Kardashian). Being grateful, however, bespeaks connection, a very certain acknowledgement that the concrete parts of success–money, fame, power–are without any real value unless they somehow allow you to share them. This, in turn, brings with it the humility that comes from realizing that you can’t be truly successful if success is only something you can count rather than something you can feel.

No one is entitled to victory, let alone success. In order to feel successful you must be able to admit that you neither did it alone, nor can you truly enjoy it alone. The gratitude felt by the successful is one born of thankfulness for the opportunity you must have been given, and borne aloft by the desire for your success to be one that is felt by not only you, but by others you are thankful to have in your life.

What does being successful mean to you? Rich or poor, famous or anonymous…are you successful?

Earn It.

“Enjoy the weekend off; you deserve it.” How many times have you heard something like that? “They need to give you X; you deserve it.” Statements like that confuse me. What does it mean to deserve something? In a roomful of people how does one determine who deserves what? “He got what he deserved.” Says who?

I like accuracy in my language, at least when considering prose as opposed to poetry or koan. The concept of earning something is much more comfortable for me, much easier for me to get my head around. Whereas there’s a real sense of entitlement in the concept of “deserve”, coupled with a whiff of helplessness in that one must be granted the state of deserving by another, to earn something is a little more like math. 2 + 2 = 4. If you do this you have earned that. This week I earned my days off by doing well at my day job, leaving few to no loose ends that required weekend tying. I earned my keep, if you will, earned the ability to take 2 days away from what provides me income. At every encounter along the way I worked to the best of my ability to earn the respect and trust of those who purchase my particular skill.

Do I deserve any of that? Well, that’s where the idea of entitlement comes in, hand in hand with the subservience inherent in the fact that someone else gets to make that call. If you ask me, not only did I deserve all of that, but there should have been more! What I did should have earned me more of all of that. There’s a fine line between “deserve” and “earn” it turns out, even for one such as I who understands the difference. In certain circumstances the hand of others, seen or unseen, pulls on strings that determine whether you do, indeed, receive that which you have earned.

As Scar so famously said: “Life’s not fairrrrrrr.”

There’s the rub. Fairness. Is what you’ve earned fair? It’s maddening, isn’t it? Even if you foreswear all sense of deserving this or that in favor of earning whatever you are still at risk of falling for the fairness trap. The reality as far as I can see is that, on balance, we all get pretty much both what we’ve earned and what we deserve; it kinda all evens out in the end. What makes it difficult is that at any one time there may be a disconnect in one particular place where you think you’ve earned it–whatever it might be–and yet it’s not coming your way. No way around it, that’s really hard. Unfair, even.

The lesson here, I think, is that pretty much everything in life is to be earned. Food, shelter, clothing. Respect. Trust. We have within us only the ability to go about our best in order to earn any and all of these. To put it another way, our best good-faith effort is all we have to contribute to the equation; acknowledging that it is on us to earn these things is in itself a demonstration of good faith, a repudiation of entitlement, and a clear statement to all that what we receive in the end cannot be justified by some outside agent declaring that “we got what we deserved.”

We deserve to be loved. Everything else we deserve only the opportunity to earn.