For a long time, I’ve struggled with the word “entitled.” If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” you understand how middle-class families instill a positive sense of entitlement into their kids. In this context “entitlement” seems like a good thing.
On a gut level, however, this has never sat well with me. While I went to two elite private institutions (Yale and Haverford), my dad worked construction and my mom is a secretary – or as Gladwell would put it, I grew up “working class.” I was told do the work and prove yourself and you will get the right opportunities. Basically, they instilled in me the necessity of doing work, and that no one is entitled to anything.
I’m here to report, my parents were wrong. At least in part, and actually I think Gladwell is a bit wrong too. The meaning of the word “entitled” has shifted- instead I think a more fitting term is probably “worthy”.
The world is not a meritocracy and the perception of your abilities matters just as much as your actual abilities. Unfortunately, I have found that people aren’t very good at distinguishing between an inflated ego and actual confidence.
You succeed by doing the work, but you can only get the work if you get the opportunity. To get opportunities, you have two choices someone needs to give you a chance or you need to make your own chances. The guy with the inflated ego is going to get the opportunity before the self-effacing woman every time. The good news for him, he’ll have to hustle, but he’ll probably figure it and he’ll learn and grow. He’s also created the perception that you have to “hustle” – and likely work harder than you had to, so that when the more competent, but less cocky person does a similar task without all the drama, it’s assumed that the work wasn’t as difficult.
I’ve watched with anthropological like curiosity the same biases play out, across gender, race, socio-economic backgrounds. While it’s clear the system has to change, and leaders need to be aware of these biases (see Laszlo Bock’s Work Rules), coaching students and those new to the workforce in positive ways to establish their own confidence and worthiness is essential.