I’ll do it myself

I will be turning 30 later this year. I’ve lived through three decades, six Presidents thus far (though with the first two I don’t remember much), two parents, a brother, who knows how many pets, and several jobs.

When I was younger, I certainly had a feeling or sense of entitlement. Back then, about twenty years ago, people called it “being spoiled” and the words “spoiled brat” were commonly used to describe children with an overbearing feeling of entitlement, like anything they wanted they could have or had to have.

Today there is this feeling floating through the air, it seems, that if you don’t give your children everything they demand, then it’s nothing else short of child abuse.

Today as I look upon my 30th birthday some months down the road, I look back at the last five years. Five years ago, the week before Memorial Day in 2005, I accepted the offer for my first real job out of college. Initially I was modest in what I felt I was worth. I was fresh out of school and didn’t think I would be paid any more than $36K to $40K per annum. When asked about salary, contrary to what seems to be the common recommendation today, being modest I said that I was looking for $36K.

What I failed to take into account in figuring what I felt I was worth is the multitude of experience and learning I had accomplished on my own, learning for which there wasn’t really any paper trail even though there were nuggets lying around here and there that could easily be found, and that I also made sure were mentioned on my resume.

Taking all of that into account, that company felt I had undervalued myself and gave me an offer with a salary about 36% higher than what I was looking for: $49K.

Did I feel I was entitled to such a salary? No I did not. The company in question felt that is what I was worth at the time after taking everything into account. Over the next near three years, I would demonstrate to them that I was earning what they were paying while never asking for anything in return except what I felt I need to do my job better — a second monitor for my computer, I believe, was the only thing I ever requested. Never did I ask for a raise, any additional benefits, or anything else, nor did I demand anything.

And I should also add that I started that job almost 6 months after graduating from college in December 2004.

Contrast that with other youths today, such as the youths in France who are protesting the government wanting to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.1 Like most workers in the United States, I don’t know what it is like to have many of the entitlements French workers experience, such as a pension guaranteed by the government.

“Don’t let the government squander away our pension!” (emphasis added), one of the protesters bellowed through a microphone.

In the United States, radio and television political commentator and New York Times best-selling author Glenn Beck has reported on youths today having that feeling of entitlement when he quoted on the air2 this letter published in Time Magazine on October 19, 2009:3 (emphasis added)

Deanna Frankowski, the Beck fan mentioned in your article, is “sick and tired of being ignored”? Give me a break! I had to wait through eight years of an Administration that brought this country to the brink. Frankowski should sit down quietly while the rest of us get to the task of cleaning up Bush’s mess. Besides, this health-care debate isn’t about those over 30; it’s about the millions of uninsured, recently graduated young people saddled with loans we can’t imagine paying off, who are sick and tired of living in an abyss created by our elders’ stupidity. Obama would be smart to focus on college towns. Step aside, Grandma. We want health care, and we want it now.
Agnieszka Marczak,
Lincoln, R.I., U.S.

“Step aside, Grandma.” You know, I would never have said anything like that.

Glenn Beck has commented many times in late 2009 on the “ME generation”, both on his radio show and television broadcast, a generation that Beck has called “a generation of would-be killers” because they care only of themselves4. While I don’t agree with everything Glenn Beck says, he at least has his eyes open, and given some of what I have seen, I reluctantly have to agree with him.

How can we appreciate what we have if we don’t earn it?

In March 2008 I was laid off from that job I mentioned earlier. For 10 1/2 months, I would be struggling to keep my head above water with what felt like an anchor 100 times my body weight tied to my ankles pulling me under. I was on unemployment for much of that time as well, and, like many currently on unemployment today, I worried what would happen if those benefits ran dry and I had not found employment. My fiancée and I discussed what we would do should that day come.

Thankfully that day never came.

However what you never heard from me were demands that unemployment benefits be extended. You never heard from me anything that even implied I had a sense of entitlement to those benefits. I knew they were a privilege, not a right, and while I felt privileged to be able to receive them, I never once felt entitled to them, because I knew those benefits would not be there forever.

When I was hired by my current employer with a much better salary than what I had when laid off, I was certainly relieved. I’m sure they also felt like I was worth what they chose to pay me given my current pay grade (yes, even in my civilian, corporate job, I have a pay grade). I know I have to earn a promotion to the next higher pay grade, and I know what I must do to earn that promotion because I know it won’t just be handed to me.

Yet we hear humorous jests all the time about fresh from college grads demanding high salaries and extravagant benefits without demonstrating in the least how they are worth what they are demanding. If only they were only jests.

I’ve had my job for approaching 17 months. I haven’t had a promotion, and the only raise I received was a cost of living increase. While I make considerably more than I did at my previous job, I know there are others who make considerably less and those who make considerably more compared to my salary, and I’m okay with that.

I’m humble.

I didn’t demand that may parents pay for my college education, yet we have kids today who are demanding that either their parents pay up or they get a free university degree. I did the research to get the financial aid I received, including the student loans I am now almost half-way through paying back. It was quite easy, courtesy of the evolution in information technology that teenagers today also demand access to: the Internet.

While I know about how much my parents make, I’m certainly not going to be borrowing any money from them unless they are the last place I can turn and I desperately need the cash. Even when I was unemployed I did not ask them for money. The only thing I asked them for was advice. They graciously helped supplement our grocery stock by buying a little more and giving it to us, but I never asked them to do that. For those of you who have no idea how that works, it’s called being charitable.

Yet today we have kids of rich parents who feel entitled to their parents’ wealth.5 Somehow the concept of “showing consideration for others’ pocketbooks” has been lost to time, as can be seen by the increasing numbers of identity theft, especially increasing numbers of cases of parents’ stealing the identities of their children.

My parents at one point even thought I was one of these less-humble, overly-demanding teenagers. The day of my 18th birthday, I received a phone call from the admissions department of Gustavus-Adolphus College in St. Paul, Minnesota. I informed them that I was no longer interested in attending that school. My father went ballistic, and it was the only time in my life I have ever been afraid of him.

Now he never struck me, but he trashed a few things in my bedroom when he confronted me on that, very visibly pissed off. He was under the presumption that I wanted him to stroke a check to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa (we lived in West Des Moines, Iowa, at the time), despite me trying to tell him over and over again that this was not the case. He would not listen.

To prove to him that I did not want him paying for my education, I signed up the next month for a class through Des Moines Area Community College. The class was at an extension location at nearby Valley High School. Just one class to prove to my father I was going to take responsibility for my education and my future.

And I have.

What we need are more teenagers and new adults doing the same, taking responsibility for their lives and their futures. We need to vacate this sense of entitlement from our current and upcoming generations and they need to realize that they don’t have a right to anything others must provide for them to even have, such as health care, an education, food, a job and a place to live.

I almost lost everything in 2008. Even now in 2010 I’m still cleaning up the mess, and it’s going to take years to completely get out from under it. But never once have I demanded someone else take me out from under it or give me what I need to get out from under it.

I have arms, legs, and a brain to operate them.

I’ll do it myself.

References   [ + ]

1. Charlton, Angela and Okello, Christina. (2010, June 27). “French youths protest over higher retirement age“. Associated Press.
2. Common American Journal. (2009, October 27). “‘Step aside, Grandma. We want our health care, and we want it now.’
3. Time.com. (2009, October 19). “Inbox: Reader’s Letters
4. Beck, Glenn. (2009, October 26). “We’re Raising a Generation of Would-be Killers“. Fox News
5. Fleming, Jeanne, PhD., and Schwartz, Leonard. (2007, March 8). “‘My rich parents won’t share’: How open must you be with family members regarding your financial situation?” CNN Money.