I need to be careful here. This is a topic on which I can easily get wrapped around the axle.
I think it happened when I was driving in my car with my boys. We were listening to the radio and an ad came on that was trying to convince us to buy something by telling us that we "deserved" it.
"You deserve to treat yourself to our foaming face scrub."
I don't remember if it was foaming face scrub exactly, I let myself get too wound up too quickly to have stored that part of the story in my long-term memory. What I do remember, however, is stabbing my finger into the 'off' button on the radio and clenching my jaw to keep my composure.
I was upset. With considerable effort, I kept my cool, but my oldest son who was in the passenger seat noticed and asked me what was wrong.
Continuing to keep my cool, I asked him, "Do you know what it means to 'deserve' something?"
"It means that you should have something," he answered.
I followed up his answer with another question: "Why does a person deserve something?"
He gave a little shrug, "I don't know. I guess just because you do."
I nodded. "What do you think you- no I. What do you think I deserve?"
Clearly a loaded and rhetorical question.
"I'll tell you. I 'deserve' a swift kick in the ass," I told him. Both boys gave a confused laugh as I'm not prone to talking this way.
"Everything I have was either earned or was given to me by someone else that earned it. The only thing I deserve in exchange for doing nothing is a boot in the ass."
I should have taken a breath at this point, but I didn't. At that moment, I felt like I needed to counter the message that advertisers were pushing to get my boys. I took the rest of the drive to break down the difference between deserving, earning, and being given something.
When you 'deserve' something, you should have it simply because it's the natural order of things. Because you exist. Because you're a beautiful, unique snowflake. You're entitled to it.
A sense of entitlement is, in my opinion, one of the largest barriers to success in life. The belief that you are owed something for simply existing is a tremendous wound that we have allowed to be inflicted upon us and our kids. I call it a barrier to success because you don't have to accomplish anything to get the things to which you think you're entitled. So you never try, you never succeed.
Don't get me wrong, I believe that there are things that I 'deserve', but they're not things I want to have. Remember that boot?
In order for me to be not dead, I need a minimum of food, water, and shelter. Even if this is the minimum set of things that I deserve, I'm still consuming resources and not contributing anything. People that consume more than they contribute though they are able deserve a kick in the ass. It's actually backed in the Bible in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-15.
Yes, there are situations where a person is in trouble or going through a bad time and they should be helped and given some space to recover (make sure to read verse 15). But at some point, it's time for them to get back at it and start contributing in some way.
When you earn something, you put in the work and contribute in some way to justify having the thing. To earn something, you have to take action. You have to create. You have to build. You have to guide. You have to do something in exchange for the something you want.
Sometimes what you've earned is a negative consequence. In cases where your action earns you a punishment of some kind, well, you've earned it. I hear a lot of kids complain about being given a bad grade. We'll talk about being given things in a bit, but for now I'd like to point out that teachers don't give their students grades. Students earn their grades.
I've earned much of what I have. However, I've been given much more than what I've earned. My family, my parents, my church, my country, my God. Each of these have at some point given me material, mental, emotional, and spiritual support that I did not deserve or earn.
My parents gave me life and raised me well. My wife gives me love and shares my burdens. My kids give me joy and trials that make me better. My church gives me community and a purpose larger than myself. So too does my country. Through the years, people, Americans, have stepped up and done hard work in order to make our country what it is and I reap the benefits of their hard work. I also bear the responsibility of ensuring that those benefits are attained justly and continue to be available to my kids.
Most importantly, my God, who, I believe, is the source of all the good and grace in my life.
For everyone that shows me grace in some way, thank you. It's my goal to prove myself worthy of your graciousness by doing what I can with what I've got to extend that grace to other people.
Yeah, this is a battle of semantics. A word game. We're splitting hairs here.
The result of this, however, I believe is important and worth the effort. If we shift our mindset from one of deserving or being entitled, to one of action and grace, we begin to take ownership of our lives. We step up and take leadership of and responsibility for ourselves.