“The World Owes Me Nothing”

I am fortunate to live amongst incredibly smart, driven, hardworking people who care about making an impact. Sometimes some of them trust me enough to come to me for business and career advice (I refuse to discuss personal problems :)).

Before every such meeting, I try hard to configure myself to set aside my own beliefs and biases and just listen. For me it takes genuine effort to actually listen and remember that listening to someone isn’t really the same thing as just waiting to talk. Or to not shirk the responsibility entrusted in me by making someone clearly in pain feel good with the formulaic “10 steps to happiness” psychobabble.

It usually starts with a clear symptom — “I hate my boss”, “I don’t have faith in my CEO”, “I deserve more equity”, “I need a bigger title”, all heartfelt and often legitimate grievances. Having been in their shoes as an employee, a leader, a CEO, I’ve dealt with many of these feelings myself, so I can usually relate to where people are coming from. I suppose that’s the real value of talking to someone — it helps separate problems from symptoms, and knowing the problem is half the solution.

Once we talk through what’s going on and dig deeper into the situation what I often discover is that these surface level emotions are just really reflections of the real problem. A problem that is larger, more corrosive, and harder to admit.

Entitlement.

The problem is we all feel entitled to something. Entitlement = a subtle and implicit belief that we deserve things, that the world owes us something.

The truth, also something we all know, is: the world owes us nothing. What’s hard is remembering it at the right time — when you are feeling entitled.

I am not suggesting that having expectations, desires, sometimes taking things for granted is unnatural or even bad. I am saying that if you stop for a minute and zoom out, you’ll start to realize that if you stop feeling entitled a lot of your pain goes away, and dealing with the reality of your situation becomes a heck of a lot easier.

So the next time you are feeling upset about something, try it — zoom out and tell yourself: the world owes me nothing. And see what happens.

When I do it mindfully I can tell you I feel a sudden emptiness, and then a delightful lightness. Sure, it may only last for a minute, but that little lull just puts things in perspective, replacing the heaviness of “I deserve better” with “I am grateful for what I have. And there will always be more to want. It will never be enough but it will all be ok”. Like the kid from the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel said. If everything is not alright, it’s not yet the end.

Try this for a week: tell yourself every morning — the world owes me nothing. See if it subconsciously effects your thoughts, alters your tone, and orchestrates your actions throughout the day. How that sets you up for a simple, but powerful call of duty: to be useful to people around you — your family, friends, co-workers, customers, investors, neighbors, strangers, everyone! To be grateful for the many, many things you have.

We come into the world crying. In the end, maybe the only thing that matters is how many people cry when we die. Or maybe that too is an entitlement.

Happy weekend!