The Entitlement Trap

Entitlement trap

Most of us want things that we don’t have. I, for one, would like to start a family and be the best mother I can be. I want to publish a novel. I want my small business to grow and become a sustainable income. There are many more I could list. None of these wants in and of themselves are bad. On the contrary, these wants give my life focus so I can prioritize my time on the things I want most.

There is a line, however, where wants can become ugly and counterproductive. I’m referring to entitlements, or the entitlement trap as some might call it. An entitlement is a want that a person feels she has already earned. I have seen this as a hiring manager – students just out of college feel entitled to jobs because they have a degree. I have seen this in our economy – people who feel they deserve more money and less financial debt given the amount of years they have been in the workforce. And I have seen this among my friends – single people who feel they have reached an age where they deserve to find a significant other.

Unfortunately, entitlements exist only in the minds of the people who employ them. In reality, there are no guarantees in life. A degree does not guarantee a job. Twenty years of loyal service does not guarantee a six-figure salary. Reaching a certain age does not mean you will find the right person to share your life with. These things are often determined by a combination of dedication to pursue goals coupled with a bit of luck.

It’s depressing to think we might not get everything we want out of life, but consider this – we create entitlements from unfair comparison. College students watch their peers get jobs straight out of graduation and assume it’s the degree that secures the job. What’s the problem with this comparison? As someone who has hired a fair share of newly minted grads, I can tell you that the degree is one of the least important things I evaluate for a potential job applicant. It is a requirement, but a minimum one at that. More importantly, I look at a person’s willingness to apply concepts to her work outside of class. I want to see passion in personal projects and a portfolio of work. Internships and other entry-level positions show dedication. A degree doesn’t show me any of these things, which is why it’s not the end-all comparison between job candidates.

Don’t fall into the entitlement trap. First, by definition, you haven’t earned something you don’t already have, so telling others that you should have it defeats the point. Second, if you think you have already earned something, you are not likely to work harder for it. In your own mind, you’ve put in the time, so why bother trying harder? Not trying harder makes it even more difficult to get what you want, especially when others are willing to go the extra mile. This sends you into a spiral of bitterness and inactivity that guarantees you will never get what you wanted in the first place.

So evaluate everything you want that you don’t have. If you find yourself struggling with the entitlement trap, remember that having a bunch of wants (like I do), doesn’t mean you will get them all, and that’s okay. Life isn’t just about getting everything we want. Instead, prioritize what you want and work toward those things you want most, knowing you’ll reach some goals and not others. The pursuit of your most important goals will give your life more purpose in the long-run than lamenting about the things you don’t have.

18 thoughts on “The Entitlement Trap”

  1. Great post! I think my ‘college bound’ niece needs to read this. I know I had the ‘entitlement’ attitude when I graduated with my degrees. Of course, as college students, we were told by staff and academic counselors that a degree was our ticket to finding our ‘perfect’ career and or J.O.B. Obviously, this is a misnomer.

    I’ve advised my niece to seek internships whether they pay or not. I told her the experience is invaluable. I also advised her to think long and hard about what she ‘really’ wants to study. She’s already receiving ‘flack’ from some family members about her course of study. I hope she can ‘tune’ them out.

  2. Great post! I think the entitlement attitude also comes from society constantly screaming through the megaphone of the media and pop-culture generally, that you DO deserve this, that and the other thing. So many people grow up with this entitlement mentality and find life so very difficult. If you truly believe you deserve something and don’t get it, that can be a huge kick in the teeth.

    How many people believe they DESERVE happiness, for example? And how many people are out there telling them that they do deserve it? But no one does. The concept doesn’t even make sense. Happiness is the result of the application of certain principles of thought and behavior, the development of certain attitudes and habits, the result of certain character traits acquired. Those who apply the principles grow in happiness. Those who don’t, well, don’t. “Deserve” has nothing to do with it.

    Thank you for reminding us that entitlement thinking is a trap that mires us in the quicksand of our own making and waking us up to some of life’s realities.

  3. Great article!

    Entitlement is a trap I often see happen, but I recognize it as a trap of the mind.

    I truly believe that you will not get in life what you WANT, but only what you truly LOVE. If you love to feel happy, you will feel happy. If you want to be happy and you think you already deserve it, you end up in quicksand. And the good news is, you don’t have to work for it. You only have to be more loving towards you do

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hi Deborah.

    I so appreciated your post on the entitlement mindset. It truly does run rampant in the workplace, in relationships, and in community — I see it in so many places and on my kind days, smile at it. On my less generous days, I shake my head.

    As Ken commented “it doesn’t even make sense” and this is the part that is puzzling –the fragmented thinking. In the workplace, I try to gently inquire as to why someone thinks they deserve this or that and what I find out is that it is based on assumptions and not thinking. Then, I’ve seen it as my role to help thinking in a more expansive way when folks are caught in the “entitlement trap.”

    On a final note, I so like the Bill and Melinda Gates’ tagline: All lives have equal value.

    Thanks for bringing up a sticky yet important topic.

  5. I believe that we always get exactly what we need in any given moment. We are always provided what we need but we don’t always receive it in the way that we would prefer.

    Anybody that believes that they are entitled will soon be woken with a “reality check.” Some sooner than later.

  6. Great article. we haven’t always had this sense of entitlement. If may have started with the Boomers in the 60s but prior to that people didnt think the world owed them anything.

    Boy have we come a long way, the wrong way, fast.

    This article has certainly got me thinking. Thanks Deborah.

  7. hey Deborah
    you are right, sometimes we bring our own misfortunes through our negative thinking patterns
    thanks for letting us know about the entitlement trap so that we can avoid it
    keep it up :)

  8. I’m an entitlement trapped survivor. I graduated from a great business school to find the only job I could get was cold calling 8 hrs a day every day.

    I hated it, but going through that got me enough time and further experience to eventually get into a Marketing position I was truly passionate and happy for.

    It’s a rough road, but sometimes we have to take the beaten path first before we reach the golden road.

  9. Thanks to all for your replies and personal stories. I love Susie’s quote that “All lives have equal value.” It is what we make of our lives that give us personal satisfaction. Unfortunately, not everyone will get everything they want in the end. That does not make our lives worth any less, though, especially if you continue to put forth your best efforts. And I am a firm believer that the more time/effort you put into the something, the more likely you are to make it happen, which goes against the idea that someone is already “entitled” to something.

    I wish you all the best in your current endeavors and the journey you’re taking getting there. :)

  10. Hi Deborah,

    thanks for your insightful post.
    In my mind there are two main factors in what you describe:

    1. Expectations – We have dozens if not hundreds of expectations of others, the world, of ourselves. We completely identify with these expectations and when they are not fulfilled we suffer. All we have to do is let go of our expectations, forgive ourselves for being who we are, accept the current situation and go full throttle from there.

    “Accept – then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.” — Eckhart Tolle

    2. “If only” – we constantly live either in the past or in the present. Our whole experience is one of the stories we unconsciously tell ourselves, instead of the actual present. “If only I had …, if only I was …, if only I did …, then I’d be happy”. We deny what is, and fall into inaction over our lamentations how things “should be” or “will be”.

    Thanks for a great post,


  11. So true, “But I deserve…” has never helped anyone. All that helps is analysing the situation and doing what seems to have the highest chances of success… and then hope for that last bit of luck that you have mentioned.

  12. Great post. I’ve been trying to avoid the same pitfall…it’s strange to think about not falling in the Entitlement Trap, whilst actually being in that trap.
    This post may have just enough juice to undo that trap.

  13. I disagree. Certain things we are all entitled to, and it is the lack of entitlement that is the foundation of problems.

    There are certain things in life that being human means we are entitled. Being human means that we respect ourselves and others, and have the opportunity to live in ways to express that. Would you argue that a baby has no right to live, or to be free to die if that is its purpose? We should not seek to put rules on the universe.

    This idea of entitlement is more due to the idea of duality. You spoke about the idea of things you want and things you work toward having. If we believe that we need more than what we have, we suffer from duality. What we have is far more than what most of the world has. Nothing wrong with having goals and a purpose in life, but we should not confuse piling up material goods, or social accomplishments as proof of our worthiness.

    It is sometimes hard for people to see that we have ultimately everything that we need. The greatest happiness in my life has been to realize that I am not separate from the universe but part of it, and already have access to everything I could possibly use. Happiness is inside, not outside of us.


    1. Perhaps I should make a distinction between human rights vs. entitlements. Things such as the right to life were not meant to be an “entitlement.” I hope the examples in my article make that clear.

      As for the difference between what we have and what we want, I do agree that most people reading this blog have far more than the rest of the world. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to better our lives, just by comparison. And our goals don’t have to be selfish, but rather, self-fulfilling.

      My main point is that people believe they are entitled to more, and they shouldn’t feel that way, especially if they are unwilling to work toward goals. And even then, as you said, attaining that does not equate with happiness. That lies within all of us individually.

    2. I disagree also. Everyone deserves to be able to eat, everyone deserve to get the healthcare they need whether they have money or not –

      I am wondering how old you are. If that is your picture Deborah I am guessing sort of young.

      When I was out of high school, we were fed the myth that if you did the work (and yes, college IS work) and got your degree you would never have to worry about being out of work again. If you had a degree, you would never have problems getting a job. I disagree with your attitude towards the degree- you act like it is nothing. I am sure as a hiring manager you look for these things. Getting a degree says you have goals and you are a hard worker. Back in the early 90s, this meant something – it meant you were a dependable person who follows through on your goals and is not afraid of hard work. Obviously it doesn’ t anymore which is sad.

      Some of us older workers who have spend most of our lives working our way through school to get these degress and than finally securing a job and losing it all our hard work and dreams are down the drain and no “hiring managers” will not hire us even though we are accomplished and experience because we are older. They prefer to hire the “young, incompetent” workers who are lazy and have no degree. Why is this? As a manager, you should be looking at commitments, goals and achievement – and a degree says this. It takes willpower and perservence to get through college.

      It is sad to see a hiring manager “dumbing” this down. I think you are confusing “entitlement” with “want” too – Lots of us “want” and “need” jobs – there is no entitlement about it. Not all people are of the Gen Y persuation who want something for nothing. Many of us have EARNED our stripes, so of speak, and that is worth alot. I know in todays market place it means nothing which is again sad. We are not afraid of hard work and many of us don’t accept to be millionaries. Your article is very stereotyping and generalizing and I think you are speaking towards a certain generation – which if you are, you need to address this and your article is incorrect.

      I hope not all hiring managers are like you. You talk about the things you “want” – but perhaps what other people “want” what you call entitlement. To be honest, to me, your wants seem like “entitlements” to me. To go to school to earn a degree because you hope it will help get you that job, it isn’t “entitlment” it is called having goals, dreams and very accepted in todays society to go to school and hope your hard work and education will get you a job. Wanting a job and to make enough money to live off of isn’t “entitlement” but than you have a job, right?. I suppose you think you are entitled to that right? So easy to sit and talk about others thinking they are “entitled” to a job when you have a job.

      1. I’m sorry if I touched a nerve. I did not intend to say hard work should go unrewarded. Far from it. As you have said in your response, people who earn their rewards should get them. And I completely agree.

        What I saw a few years ago as a hiring manager was this: many young students (not all) would come out of college and just expect to find a job. They were competing against other students who also had degrees, but did a bunch of other things as well: internships, community service, and a host of other activities. The students with only the degree sometimes couldn’t compete. And the worst is when they reacted poorly to rejection. A few candidates I turned down were outright rude, saying I had denied them something. I suppose it’s true that I did deny them something…because I gave those opportunities to other people who had worked much harder in college and were better suited to getting the job done. Those candidates could have learned more from rejection, but decided instead to feel cheated.

        As a hiring manager, I often turned down candidates who were well qualified. It happens a lot in a down economy. I actually had a conversation with one such candidate where she ended up in tears. She was a very hard worker and frustrated that I had not chosen her for a graphic design position. I sat down with her over coffee and told her 1) why I ended up choosing another candidate and 2) gave her tips on how to improve for next time. We remained friends after the interview, and she went on to have a great career in design, partially because she ended up working hard and landing the next opportunity. One, two, or in my friend’s case, even several years of setbacks didn’t stop her from pursuing the career she wanted.

        I would hope no one would have to wait that long to attain their goals, but it does sometimes happen. Life isn’t always fair, even when we work hard and are a good person. My grandmother was interned in a Japanese American concentration camp during WWII. In her situation, we go far past entitlements into the removal of basic human rights. If anyone has a basis for complaint, it would be her. Still, even though life handed her a very raw deal, she never let it get her down. She has led (and continues to lead) a very active, fulfilling life supporting what she believes in.

        And that’s what I mean by “entitlement.” You can’t just let life set you back, and you certainly can’t expect life to hand you anything. If you work towards a goal and it doesn’t happen the first time, try again. Learn how to be better and improve. But don’t just get mad at the world when life doesn’t turn out the way you want it. That’s counterproductive and won’t get you where you want to be.

  14. I’d like to preface this by saying that it’s just my opinion and I am not trying to bag out the author of this post.

    If you don’t put the hard work in and expect to get the fantastic rewards then I consider that entitlement. But if for example you work hard, always try to help out and are efficient and conscientious then yes I think you deserve the promotion. After all that is what you are working towards. It’s one of your goals.
    If you spend years being there for someone, being their ally/confidante, lover and friend, then it’s normal to expect that you will be treated with the same kind of consideration and will receive the same kind of support.
    My personal experience is giving 100% in jobs and relationships and being given virtually nothing in return or being taken advantage of. I don’t consider that I have a sense of entitlement but I do think I deserve more than what I’m getting.
    I have seen people who put in less effort/energy into their jobs and relationships get promotions and relationships (i.e. they felt entitled to receive these things and have gotten them might I add).
    It’s a statement of fact not a wah-wah-why-me whine. How do you account for that?
    Does our global culture of affirmations, positive thinking, etc. (i.e. with the concept that we can bring anything we want into being and we are ”worth it”) not predispose us to feel entitled?

    1. Curious,

      What you wrote doesn’t sound like a “wah-wah-why-me-whine.” In fact, it sounds completely reasonable: that if you put in hard work there should be rewards. That is not entitlement. I hate to hear that you’ve given so much time and effort, yet haven’t gotten much back in return.

      It’s true that sometimes people who work less can get more results out of us than life, the same that it is true that some people are born into better situations than others. The mere fact that you and I are writing on this blog means we were given an advantage in life that some people will never have: we had a healthy enough childhood to make it this far, and we received some sort of an education. Not everyone on this planet can boast this fact. The only way to account for the differences in life is by simply acknowledging them. Not everyone gets the same opportunities and will get the same results, even if one person puts in a ton more energy than someone else.

      The reason I encourage a positive outlook is that, on the flip side, if you simply feel bad about yourself and blame the world for your troubles, you won’t ever change your situation. It’s true, that if you work hard and be a good person, there is always a chance things won’t work out for you. However, if you decide not to do anything, there’s a 100% chance that your situation will not change. Those being your options, I will always advocate picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and trying.

      That being said, you increase your changes by keeping at it, meaning odds are in your favor that someday, things will go your way. If the people around you don’t appreciate you, find people who do. If you keep looking, you are more likely to find someone who will appreciate you. If you put in hard work, but other people get promotions, keep working. Look at other companies, train yourself, and keep at it. At some point, your experience and hard work are likely to outshine the people who do less, for the sheer reason that you’re keeping current in your field.

      I hope I don’t come across as condensing or rude. Your situation is very real, and your frustrations are legitimate. I put 8 years into a relationship that failed in a spectacular way. The moment we broke it off, I felt nothing was going my way. I had a pity party, and for several months, I didn’t take my own advice. But once I was sick of my situation, I got back in the dating pool, and I’m happy to say that four years later, I am happier than I ever possibly could have been with my previous partner. It wasn’t an easy road, and sometimes it felt hopeless, but I got there. I wish all the same for you.

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