Want to feel like this? Keep reading…
I had a rock-bottom experience in November when I quit my job and was looking for another place to work. I realized that I was putting way too much pressure on myself to get the “right” kind of job. And I also was requiring myself unnecessarily to be the Ubermensch kind of person I had always envisioned for myself. (Ubermensch: a German word meaning “super-man” coined by the philosopher Friedrich Nietsche for “special little kick-ass snowflake who doesn’t need anyone else’s help and also accomplishes a crap ton of things for humanity, with little need for self-care.) I was feeling entitled to have accomplished more by now simply because I had already put the work in at Purdue and UC, Berkeley. I believed that because I had already done so much work in academia, I was entitled to a life with little stress and lots of money.
But I didn’t feel like I’d ever have enough money. I was also spending out the nose on random things I liked at the mall or online. I felt like I was entitled to have things that made me happy. And yet after every shopping trip, I still felt a pervasive emptiness inside and even more stress and anxiety for having spent that much more money from my accounts. In other words, I felt like I was entitled to success, but I wasn’t willing to do any of the soul-searching work it took to define what the measures of success looked like to me.
And this is what was bringing me down and making me so angry at the world!
My Reality Check
But having money without having stress is not a common combination here in the States. Perhaps my idea of what life “should” look like wasn’t meshing well with reality. With this in mind, I finally had to get real with myself about what I could handle given my current mental health, my education to that point, and my energy levels. I decided that I need to settle into a “boring” routine following a conventional 9-to-5 career before I could start doing any of the other plans I had for my life. More on those plans here (coming soon). So I started looking for a “chemist” job title and recognized that regardless of how much work I had already put in to my training, I still was bound to start work at an entry-level position at the bottom of the barrel.
Americans in the early 1900s used to see things like “education,” a “fast food job,” “mowing the lawn for an extra nickle,” or “doing chores to keep the house together” as opportunities, not given rights or even a pain in the butt. People appreciated the little things. For example, fruit was considered a gift or a treat due to its relative rarity – parents would even put oranges or apples into their kids’ stockings for Christmas (American Girl: Kit)! And in the media and letters we’ve kept record of since then, people who lived in that era were generally positive, grateful for what they had, and capitalizing on the opportunities available to them without scoffing because they looked or felt a certain way on the surface.
Today, however, many Americans feel overburdened, stressed, anxious, and fearful about the future. And yet we have more choice, more abundance, and we can buy fruit everyday from the local grocery! While people in other countries (take South Africa, lately, for example) are still struggling for everyday access to clean water, which is still not a certainty for them (National Public Radio FM 90.1). We’ve surpassed satisfying our need for water so much so that we literally don’t even think about water anymore! We now treat access to water as a right rather than an opportunity or privilege.
I personally believe that the present endemic is connected to a shift from viewing choices as opportunities to viewing them as entitlements. How can we detach from this unhelpful habit?
Identify Your Entitlement, Regain Perspective
Think about the last time you cleaned your own floor. Have you groaned at the idea and instead just ordered a cleaning service to come do it for you, even though you know you can’t really afford it with your current income? Don’t know if you can’t afford it because you don’t even know what your budget is? Or perhaps the task just doesn’t even get done and you’re living in a filthy apartment for months at a time until you “get around to it”? This is an instance of entitlement. You feel entitled to having someone else clean your apartment because you are too good or too busy or too important to do those things yourself.
Mind you, some tasks like cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry are necessary elements of the human existence. Taking them away and delegating them to someone else when it is clearly (or unclearly?) beyond your means is doing yourself a disservice, because it doesn’t allow you to appreciate the in-body experience of living simply. Knowing how to do simple tasks light hanging a poster, changing a light bulb, scrubbing the floor, cleaning our your fridge, or folding your own clothes can be essential to your ability to feel competent, confident, and capable of functioning in times of difficulty. Whether that difficulty is a loss of income or an abundance of stress from some other aspect of your life, you need to take control of the low-hanging fruit.
Do you feel somehow slighted because you didn’t get invited to that party even though you have many friends already? Or you can’t go to the Coldplay concert with your friends? This is another instance of entitlement. We have it so good in this country that we expect every day to be great, fun, and exciting, rather than accepting the fact that most things in life will be mundane, boring, or typical. It’s not a wonder this nation is so depressed and anxious. When nothing exciting happens, or we don’t get to do the next great and exciting thing, we get disappointed. Angry or frustrated even!
When we get real with our own needs rather than wants, however, we regain perspective. We are able to experience gratitude for the many things we have that are already going well. Sometimes there is no meaning to life other than to live it. The acts of breathing, eating, sleeping, cooking, washing, communing with others, communing with nature, talking to a Deity, etc. Sometimes that’s the beauty of life itself. Life for the sake of living (Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck; the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha).
In that new context, doesn’t it seem a lot easier to make a budget and live it out every month? Forget about all of the advertisements swirling all around everywhere – your phone, the billboard outside your apartment complex, the ads at the beginning of every YouTube video or the radio station you listened to this morning on the way to work. You have to stay connected to the body and spirit of living. This will undermine any entitlement you may feel on a daily basis.
Please leave a comment below if you liked this article! I really hope it helps you regain perspective and feel more in control and happy with your current life situation.
Hannah Stringfellow is a freelance blogger and world traveler. She holds an M.S., Chemistry, from the University of California, Berkeley. Her interests include women’s empowerment, health and wellness, and cross-cultural competency.