This Endless Moment-sample chapter

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!”

Yowz­er!

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!”

Right.

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.

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