The definition of entitlement is: The fact of having a right to something. I remember when that concept became real for me, for the first time in my adult life. I had graduated from my father’s employee benefit program, due to my age. At the same time, I landed a proper full-time job. In that transaction I was deemed entitledto an offering in my own right. I felt this was a moment in time, when I was grown-up. I was entitled to something, not because I had earned it, really. Something as simple as the offer to participate in an extended health care program left me with a feeling of privilege. I had been elevated from the halls of the part-time job market where similar benefits did not exist.
In my mind, entitlements and privileges are associated with responsibilities. If I committed to the scope of full-time work, I was not free to pursue other forms of work. The employer then creates a package of non-salary benefits which are meant to help attract and retain people. I thought this was an excellent arrangement. I gladly accepted the responsibility and when I worked very hard and the market conditions were good, I received bonus compensations and salary increases, on top of the benefits I was entitled to.
After the ink dried on the first employment agreement, was when the feeling of entitlement ended. Anything and everything which came after had to be earned. It was never a foregone conclusion. In other words, my feelings of entitlement did not extend to other parts of my employment or the actual work I did. In fact, nothing that my boss asked me to do was ever something which I felt was beneath me. This might be where the confusion sets in.
In the modern work culture, people with a certain rank of seniority will openly express that a task like unpacking boxes is below their pay grade. They think that if their job has not been described to include tasks which are included in a junior position that they are literally above it. While technically that may be true, the gall of this statement feels staggering to me. I can’t imagine ever expressing such a sense of privilege and entitlement. Not when I was young and certainly not now that I am middle-aged.
The more I read the definition of the word entitlement, I wonder if two generations in society are interpreting the meaning differently. I feel like younger workers in the job market get to a point where tasks which are not included in their job descriptions are literally, not their job. That attitude of exclusion extends to tasks which are a step above them or below them. Some of these younger workers do not feel the need to stretch themselves and do more than what they signed up for.
When I think of when I was just starting out in the corporate world, I would take on almost anything which was asked of me by people in my department. I took that attitude with me as I climbed the ladder. So when it was time to unpack boxes and there was nobody available to do the work, I would make time in my schedule because one way or another that work had to get done. Yes, technically it was not the best use of corporate dollars to have a higher paid person do work that could be completed by someone making less money. But, the boxes had to be unpacked.
My sewing teacher in college said it best, when she described what the working world was going to be like. She warned us that we would be ‘picking up pins’ for quite a while when we first started out. In some cases that was more of a metaphor, but it was meant to distinguish the difference between the learning environment, which was easy, compared to the real world. I never forgot that reality check and to some degree, I think ‘picking up pins’ applies to all the tasks we don’t like to do, but must do anyway.
Maybe these younger workers have it figured out. They are not keen to complete tasks which are below their pay grade and they are equally not interesting in stretching themselves above their pay grade. They are often heard to complain about not be compensated for a promotion before they have demonstrated they are ready or even willing to do the work. At the same time, I know that I was probably taken advantage of because I took on too much and then felt resentful for not receiving a commensurate increase in my pay. It can be a slippery slope.
What all this discourse could be highlighting is cracks in the system. If a younger, larger workforce refuses to play by the rules set up fifty years ago, then there has to be a change. Where I feel the actions of a younger worker looks like entitlement, they may look at me with confusion, for they were simply expressing a boundary. Even though job descriptions are written to indicate that from time to time tasks will be assigned outside the scope of duties specified, abusing that disclaimer is not sustainable.
Maybe I have it all wrong from years of corporate conditioning. Somewhere along the way, I graduated from being a rebellious teenager and more easily accepted the conditions of work norms, without question. I never thought to set boundaries, not in my work or in my personal life. I thought that was a special case, allowed for some people. I never imagined that understanding and communicating my limits would be a key factor in my health and wellness.
I still struggle with the concept of boundaries. It seems like a foreign idea to say, “I stop here, I will go no further”. To prioritize my wants and needs above those of others, at a certain point, feels like I will open up a whole line of questions. Who do I think I am? What gives me the right? Why can’t I be a team player? Maybe I missed the memo, because I should not feel fear at setting healthy boundaries. Yet, I do anyway. These nagging worries, in the back of my mind, stop me from taking action.
Brene Brown has much to say about setting boundaries. As a recovering people pleaser, she knows how dangerous it is to commit to something you don’t want to do, but feel obligated by. This is a breeding ground for shame and resentment. Nothing good comes from failing to set boundaries.
Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. We can’t base our own worthiness on others’ approval. Only when we believe, deep down, that we are enough can we say “Enough!”
So we come to the nut of it, worthiness. I think younger workers have a strong sense of self. They are not afraid to set boundaries. They believe that they are the best versions of themselves when they set clear limits. I missed that lesson somewhere along the way. Instead, I felt compelled to hustle for acceptance and do whatever was asked of me. Somehow I thought, everything would be alright in the end.
What I know for sure is that nothing good comes from a lack of self-worth. By putting the needs of others, above my own and always doing more than is expected, I continually set myself up to fail, emotionally. This kind of practice is not healthy and not sustainable. It is no wonder I often collapse into bed feeling like I have given everything I have, all day long. When and how do I fill up my reservoir?
My quest has always been oriented towards less stress, more health and wellness. That idea has been amplified even more, now that I am back in the corporate world. The old habits die-hard. Luckily, I am surrounded by young people and maybe they have a thing or two to teach me.
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