How do I lose my sense of entitlement?
May 18, 2007 4:37 PM   Subscribe

How do I lose my sense of entitlement?

Far from having "immigrant mentality," I have the "entitled white boy" mentality, and I'd really like to lose it. When I was younger I never had to work too hard because people ascribed to me a high level of aptitude I never really earned. Now that I'm out in the Real World I'm having a hard time mustering the success that a nattering little voice in my head says I deserve, but I lack the drive to achieve it, having been handed so much without any effort on my part.


How do I silence the voice that say I deserve everything so I can muster the ambition to actually earn it?
posted by lekvar to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Well, even if you never silence that little voice a few years in the Real World will show you that no matter what you deserve, you won't get anything without hard work.

If I were you, I'd think less in terms of "deserve" and more in terms of "want." Figure out what you want, and then decide on what actions you need to perform to take it. That's it.
posted by christinetheslp at 4:51 PM on May 18, 2007

Here's a good essay on recognizing white privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack.
posted by ottereroticist at 4:52 PM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Travel. As in, volunteer in a South Asian orphanage. You’ll develop management and organisational skills; you won’t be able to slack off because all those little kids are depending on you; and you will realise exactly how f***ing lucky you are to be you.

Your difficulties are not just about entitlement though. Lots of entitled people regard the world as theirs for the taking and just go out and take it. Which typically requires hard work.

Anyway: the cure is to get your hands dirty.
posted by kika at 4:58 PM on May 18, 2007

Or volunteer closer to home. My eyes were opened after spending time tutoring kids who lived in Cabrini Green.
posted by macadamiaranch at 5:04 PM on May 18, 2007

How about shifting your perspective just enough to say, "I deserve success and all of life's good stuff -- and so does everybody else."

Some of them are out there getting it. If I want that stuff I need to get out there too. Some of them have obstacles I don't have, that they have to push out of the way before they can even get out there. Maybe I'll be able to help shift those obstacles, if only by paying my taxes. Some people think of my success and happiness as part of their good stuff -- my mom, my friend Joe, my old teacher Mrs. Johnson. So maybe it's time to quit standing here with my toe in the water. Maybe it's time to jump in and swim.
posted by Methylviolet at 5:10 PM on May 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

The first (and probably only step) is to feel gratitude for the things you have. Both material and unmaterial. Like all your fancy toys. Literacy. A sharp mind. Not having cancer. Parents.

Once you feel real gratitude for the things you have your entitlement will turn into "Whoa, I'm pretty lucky."
posted by damn dirty ape at 5:25 PM on May 18, 2007

Reformed entitled white boy here. My answer is kind of out of left field, but here goes:

I work in the developing world most of the year. When I'm home and living with my family in the States for a spell, I try to keep in mind the much, much larger effects our decisions make on the environment than those of an average family in another part of the world do.

That means not buying bottled water and using a Nalgene instead, or trying to get the family toward eating more locally-grown foods (luckily, that's easy and delicious here in California), or talking to the neighbors about my experiences and how influential they are as consumers and citizens here in America compared to, say, Indonesians or Ghanaians. I'm proud to say that since coming home in February, my family eats less meat, uses cold water in the washing machine, and drives less. It's all comparatively small stuff, but it keeps us aware of the choices we make and how they affect the world.

It's one thing to go help "those people over there" and then come home and change nothing; it's another to internalize their everyday struggles for things we take for granted (tap water, safe medicine, clean air) and turn that into action. I don't know if that's a cure for entitlement, but it's a recipe for consciousness.
posted by mdonley at 5:26 PM on May 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

volunteering is a good place to start. there is probably a habitat for humanity near you--you will use skills you probably didn't have much of a chance to develop during an upper-middle-class childhood (i.e. construction), so the work will be hard and interesting, and you'll get to see the fruits of your labor.

in life, identify what you really want (not what you think you want, or think you deserve, but something that will satisfy your soul) and set out to achieve it. go back to school if necessary, or learn a new skill. train for a marathon. plant a garden. learn how to speak french. once you get in the habit of achieving smaller things, you'll be able to take better control of the big picture.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:31 PM on May 18, 2007

Live and work in situations where you're competing *hard* with others on a daily basis.
posted by gadha at 5:32 PM on May 18, 2007

You sound young. Have you just entered the Real World recently?

I think that if you simply contine "having a hard time mustering...success" your attitudes will change, simply through collision with reality. You ask:

How do I silence the voice that say I deserve everything so I can muster the ambition to actually earn it?

Ambition isn't enough. Set practical, incremental, amd achievable goals. Perhaps a long talk (or series of talks) with a friend or counselor who can see you as you really are would help.
posted by Robert Angelo at 5:57 PM on May 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

I second traveling or some kind of Peace Corps type activity. If you can't do that right now, then volunteer locally where your community really needs you. And, congratulations for recognizing your sense of entitlement and wanting to change it. Most men in your situation would find this prospect terrifying and probably quash the urge by ordering something from the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue or making some poor woman miserable.
posted by Lieber Frau at 6:10 PM on May 18, 2007


You will find out pronto how unpriviliged you really are.

If you are bright, yet unmotivated, you will ultimately fail. It might be good for you. It might lead to you realizing that you actually are responsible for yourself.

That sounds harsh. Life is harsh. On the flip side, you are so not alone. Get a grip, get some reality, and you will be ahead of the game. Lots of good advice above, listen.
posted by caddis at 6:55 PM on May 18, 2007

Another vote for volunteer, but I would say look for a nursing home, maybe a facility that has a lot of medicaid only patients. Listen to their stories. Learn about their lives, about why their kids may or may not visit them (deserved or not). One day, someone you know there will die. That will teach you the whole "unfair loss" part of life -someone you appreciated, gone. Be a part of someone else's life without an expectation or obligation of family, sex, money.

But really, I am glad you realised this about yourself before the rest of the world did.
posted by kellyblah at 7:05 PM on May 18, 2007

Read the book Mind Sets which was written by the researcher whose work formed the basis of this thread.

The thing to realize (and I say this as a brilliant entitled white boy) is that brilliance and entitlement do not lead to accomplishment. Hard work leads to accomplishment. The sooner you recognize that and get down to work, the more likely you will be have a life that you find satisfying.

Just read the mefi thread to hear all the stories of people who, like me, took a very long time to learn this lesson.
posted by alms at 7:36 PM on May 18, 2007

Fascinating question, and many great answers. I will be following this thread.

I would venture to add to the above: in even recognizing your sense of entitlement and deciding to work on it, you have already taken the hardest step. Or at least, what would be the hardest step for most of us.

It's like they say; the first step in getting yourself out of a hole is to stop digging.

posted by churl at 8:03 PM on May 18, 2007

It sounds like your real problem is not the sense of entitilement, it's that you've gotten what you wanted so far while coasting. Now, things are harder and when you try coasting you just drift.

Maybe the problem is that you don't really have a goal that matters. Generic success is usually what "everyone" (society) says you should be going for. The first question for you is what do you REALLY want for yourself, want enough that you would be willing to work hard for it.

The second step is learn what you didn't learn in school - have to set practical incremental and achievable goals (quoting Robert Angelo above ). There are a bunch of self-help books on the topic but they won't do you any good unless you are motivated - which means that you WANT something.
posted by metahawk at 8:46 PM on May 18, 2007

lekvar, are you me?
i'll be following answers here closely.
posted by baserunner73 at 9:04 PM on May 18, 2007

I second kellyblah. Go volunteer at a hospital. There are generally lots of different kinds of volunteer opportunities available, so you should be able to find something that will both interest you and have a positive impact on someone else.

At some point, you will likely meet a patient close to your age who reminds you of you or someone you love. Maybe they'll look sick and maybe they won't. They'll sit on a couch in the lobby of the hospital, hooked up with a drip for chemo, typing on a laptop or reading the newspaper, and you'll realize there's no reason to think you won't be sitting on that same couch someday.

You will learn all kinds of things about people and families and incredible lives that have been temporarily (or permanently) interrupted.

Your gratitude will increase exponentially.
posted by krisken at 9:21 PM on May 18, 2007

Go find a retirement home where the residents are poor and not well taken care of. Get a job there doing the most menial activities, especially cleaning out the bedpans. Watch people suffer and die alone. Do this until you know that you can never stop doing this.
posted by lilboo at 10:03 PM on May 18, 2007

Hello, I will be your contrarian voice today.

It's impossible to argue with the suggestions here that you should volunteer your time, energy, etc, to help those that are less fortunate. All good stuff.

But are you really convinced that the thing that's standing in your way is a sense of entitlement? Are you really saying: "I am unhappy because things aren't being handed to me on a silver platter, and since I feel they should be handed to me on a silver platter, I will not go looking for silver platters to be handed to me."

If so, you don't need to lose your sense of entitlement. You are, after all, entitled to chase your dreams.

What you need is to stop with the navel-gazing. Lose the idea that the problem is external to you, that it was something thrust upon you by someone that gagged you with a silver-spoon.

Your problem isn't the sense of entitlement you inherited. Your problem the garden-variety sloth that you've adopted all by yourself.

So, by all means, volunteer somewhere. But don't do it because you're merely attempting to feel better about yourself. Just come down off the cross. Someone else needs the wood.
posted by frogan at 10:38 PM on May 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

Perhaps your problem is not so much a sense of entitlement as that you don't rate the potential rewards of hard work very highly because you used to get them easily. Unfortunately, when none of the potential rewards available to you seems worth the trouble, it's very tempting to not go after any of them.

I suggest getting your finances more organized so that you have really tight control over your money. Figure out how much money you can spend on fun stuff right now. Work out how much more that could be if you got a better paying job. Think about what you would do with that extra cash. Now you've got a more tangible incentive to work hard.

The general principle that being more organized helps to make small rewards more interesting could be applied to other areas of your life as well.
posted by teleskiving at 2:44 AM on May 19, 2007

If what you want to do is combat entitlement feelings, go find a situation where you frequently can't have what you want, for no good reason at all. The former USSR would fit the bill. Select difficult goals and spend all your time on them. And then, when things don't work out and there's nothing you can do about it, you will grow. Nothing breaks down a sense of entitlement like a steady diet of 'tough beans'. If you can meet lots of people and learn their grossly unjust history (again, former USSR?), you will discover in a gut-smashing way that people don't even get what they really are entitled to, like humane treatment or justice.

But consider what frogan's saying, too. Is the problem how you feel, or is the problem what you (don't) do?
posted by eritain at 3:13 AM on May 19, 2007

I have mixed feelings about this question. I am inclined toward frogan's position, but I am also thinking that maybe the desire and ability to shed your white male entitlement is just another manifestation of white male entitlement.

I.e., your belief that you can shed your white male entitlement and actually earn all this good stuff, is just another confirmation that you feel entitled to this good stuff.

If you really want to get rid of white male entitlement, maybe you should just realize that even if you work hard, you may not be able to earn this good stuff.

The essence of white male privilege is to think that we Caucasians are universal, that we are the standard, that we are neutral. One thing that irritates me about certain Caucasians is that they act as though the world is their oyster, that there is nothing that they can't achieve, if they work hard enough. So to get rid of your white male privilege, you need to shed the idea that you can achieve anything by effort---that is, the very goal you are asking us to help you with, is actually just another manifestation of white privilege. Maybe the crippling sense of white entitlement, that results in people not achieving what they could in the real world, is actually nature's way of evening out the playing field, and giving people who aren't afflicted with a sense of entitlement the chance to kick some butt.
posted by jayder at 8:53 AM on May 19, 2007

Watch people suffer and die alone. Do this until you know that you can never stop doing this.

Well, that certainly sounds like it will make him miserable. But knowing he can always stop doing it makes him just as privileged as he started.
posted by smackfu at 7:13 PM on May 19, 2007

A lot of good stuff to chew on. Thanks, everybody. Some suggestions really resonate. Others, not so much but I'll bear them in mind.
posted by lekvar at 11:36 PM on May 19, 2007

Just so you know, I tried the failing thing everyone mentioned above, and it really really bites.

For better or for worse, I would not be the person I am today had I refused to let my head get knocked around, my heart to be broken, and my soul to be quelched.

What I have to show for my decision is clarity on the value of no and yes.
posted by humannaire at 10:09 AM on May 24, 2007

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