Thoughts about Ego & Sense of Entitlement

What you are getting into: 1200 words, 7mins read

Have you been upset about people who have an enormous amount of ego? No matter what you tell them, they just won’t listen, it feels as though things that they do merely serves to satisfy their ego.

Then you probably have come across someone who is an egomaniac.

Truth is, we all have ego inside us.

Ego sometimes can be helpful. It can push us to do great things. However, it can also be our downfall it we let it (unconsciously) control us.

There’s a good book ‘Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday’1 that discusses ego while throwing in examples of famous people who got consumed (or not) by ego. It’s a good enough book to re-read every year to keep ego in check.

I sum up ego as follows:

When things go bad, ego says: “It’s not because of me.”

When things go well, ego says: “It’s because of me.”

When things go bad, ego finds someone to blame, something that is out of our control. We have done everything that we can, and ‘we should not bear responsibility because we have gave it our all.’ We tell stories that puts us in the victim spotlight2, that we are damned by circumstances that we could have never thought of. And yet we aren’t doing a thing to turn the tides. Instead, we complain and rant, or worse, get destructive.

When things go well, ego directs all attention to ourselves. We are so smart and competent that it’s tempting to say we deserve all the credit. We should be validated for our hard work. Hours and hours of grinding it out should at least be celebrated..right?

What if ego is removed from the equation? I think what we are left is objectivity. It is then we are able to see things without putting ‘me me me’ in the picture. The picture is just ‘is’.

When things go bad, would you be willing to say: “I bear responsibility for the bad outcome, I have not done well. I will setup tripwires3 to prevent escalation of commitment4, and I will learn from my mistakes.”

Extreme Ownership

Jocko Willink5 of the book Extreme Ownership6 talks about taking full ownership of any mission as a platoon commander (he is a highly decorated retired Navy SEAL commander). In his podcasts, he describe a scenario that if a mission is botched up by his men under his command, what went wrong is his failure to understand the mission and his failure to communicate it to his men. It is of no fault of his men. He also talks about people having the perception that Navy SEALs are train to get things done, almost to the sense that the SEALs are robots. Jocko disagrees, and brought up anecdotes that the SEALs are humans too, and it takes a leader to lead the men to do what is needed, and the first step of the leader in charge is to take ownership. Even though the SEALs are trained to do it, it doesn’t mean they will do it, it still takes a leader to make it happen.

When things go well, would you be willing to say: “The success didn’t not just happen solely because of me, it happened because so-and-so provided me with the insights, so-and-so gave me the strength to push through, now let’s discuss together and see how can we make this even better.”

Would you acknowledge the fact that you wouldn’t have done it without the help of the team? Even if you had no team, what got you where you are now?

This is dangerously connected to..

Sense of entitlement

  • Dictionary.com define entitlement as “the fact of having a right to something”7
  • Outofthefog defines sense of entitlement as “An unrealistic, unmerited or inappropriate expectation of favourable living conditions and favourable treatment at the hands of others.”8
  • Sense of entitlement is the opposite of hard work
  • Sense of entitlement makes you believe that you deserve something when you really don’t
  • Sense of entitlement is often mashed up (messed up) with privilege and big egos
  • Sense of entitlement inflates one’s own importance and rights without any strong reasoning

Don’t you abhor people who sound like the above? It is often argued that millennials have a strong sense of entitlement9. I am one too and I can honestly tell you, based on my opinion, I agree with the statement because I do feel the sense of entitlement upon hours of introspection. It’s hard to come to terms that one is entitled, but true. I certainly checked off some of the bullet points above.

As much as I wish to argue my way out, I resist. Because I know that accepting that having a sense of entitlement can bring no benefit, in fact it will only bring detrimental consequences should one subscribe to entitlement camp consciously, or unconsciously.

One should always seek to give first, then receive. Without giving, how should we receive? Using transactional analogy may bolster your understanding. In order to purchase an apple which cost $1, you will need to give the fruit seller $1? In exchange for a product, in this example an apple, you give up your currency of $1. For people with a sense of entitlement, there’s no currency for exchange, it’s just blindly expecting the fruit seller to give you the apple, well because you deserve it due to <insert whichever reason entitled pricks deem fit, because they sure do have tons of BS>.

(A caveat to note, not everything is useful under the lens of transactional analogy.)

If you would like to change your mind, go read Give and Take by Adam Grant 10.

What you have is worth a lot. Seek out the people who need it. Know what you can do and tell people that you’re willing to do it. They will treasure and remember you. Your time. Your talents. Your compliments. A seat at your table. A cup of sugar. A clean pair of socks. The world needs whatever it is that you have. — Adam Grant

 

I’ll leave you with this:

Ask not what they can offer. Instead, ask what I can offer. Give more than I take, I shall not stop till the day where I have nothing left to give. For the day may never arrive till the very last breath of my humble time.

Images by Fortune, Awakeacademy

Footnotes

  1. Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday (Amazon link)
  2. Don’t Play the Victim Game, Robert Firestone, Psychology Today, 2009 (link)
  3. Think of tripwires as a buffer, it prevents you from threading into the red zone (link)
  4. Continuing the path you have undertaken because you are too far in, too knee-deep to turn back. Similar to gambling, when you start losing, you start making larger bets in order to recoup your losses. The rational decision is to stop and minimise losses. (link)
  5. Jocko Willink (link)
  6. Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink & Leif Babin, 2015 (link)
  7. Merriam Webster definition of entitlement (link)
  8. They classify as personality disorder, I don’t think so. I think it’s a bad habit (link)
  9. Wall Street Journal, 2008 (link)
  10. Give and Take, Adam Grant, 2014 (link)

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