Friday, November 11, 2011

Enough with the self esteem already

One of my teachers assigned an article called "Enough with the self-esteem already." Kind of weird, since self esteem is such a big part of our world, and a goal for everyone. The author points at that in our efforts to help people feel good about themselves, we have created a sense of entitlement.

The article talks about how many young adults feel like they "deserve" a career or good grades. The author expresses a hope that maybe with this recession, we will see a turn away from this entitlement and once again realize we must work hard to get jobs and to keep them. As she says, "Perhaps we are on our way back to the time when not getting fired was all the "self-esteem building" one could ask for."

What really struck me was her reference to a study described in the New York Times where it was discovered that students think they should get good grades for just gracing their seats in class. At the University of California-Irvine, "a third of students surveyed said that they expected B's just for attending lectures, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the required reading." Granted, that's not everyone, but that's a pretty significant chunk of people.

The article's main point is that excellence and effort are not the same thing. It does not matter how hard you work on something if your work is crap. You don't deserve anything that you don't work for. What is with this sense of entitlement? "Well, I obviously think I'm pretty awesome, so therefore everyone should think I'm awesome. I deserve to have an awesome job, a nice car, and a sweet house."

Somewhere along the line, we entered this realm where everyone expects the same things everyone else is getting. "I studied just as long as him, therefore I deserve the same grade." But... he did better than you on the exam. "I applied for so many jobs and did so much recruiting, and she barely did anything, so she doesn't deserve a job if I can't get one." But... they liked her better than they liked you.

Granted, it's easy to feel disappointed and inadequate when your efforts fail you. Clearly I am not immune to this. But I think what we all need to watch out for is this idea that we deserve something. Times are tough, no one is going to hand you an awesome career on a silver platter. Many people around you are just as awesome as you are, believe it or not.

Whenever I have these thoughts, I think of what my more liberal friends would say. "What about the people who can't get a job, that's not fair." or "Some people are born into different circumstances and don't have all the opportunities you do." I understand that. And I hope that one day our country has done more to help these people be on level footing. And by that, I don't just mean our government. I mean our culture. But I really don't think the answer is saying that people deserve a job just because they have a degree/because they breathe. If that were the case, you would end up with way too many people in some fields, and everyone will make less money, unless the government funds their wages (and that's what we need, more government spending). That, or companies will have to hire people who won't help their productivity and companies will struggle even more to grow and turn a profit.

What do you think?


  1. I do think everyone who wants a job "deserves" one, because without a job people don't make money at all and thus either starve or need government handouts. What people don't deserve is an ideal job. If all you can get is digging trenches, go dig a trench. And I do think that people in our generation think we're "above" such jobs. If you couldn't get a job in your field, how low would you be willing to go? I'm not sure what my own answer would be.

  2. i took a class once about the culture of the church (actually, i can't remember if it was this class or another class that we talked about this, W) anyways we talked one day about self-esteem and how it is a social construct, not a spiritual one. in the scriptures it says "love thy neighbor as thyself" and most everyone takes this to mean that we need to love ourselves and our neighbors equally, but my teacher thinks (and i agree) that this is the Lord giving a commandment to people who really love themselves and couldn't comprehend how to love others. he was almost chastising them/us by telling them to love others as much as they loved themselves. While i do believe it is good to have a good sense of self-worth i.e. recognizing the good in yourself and appreciating it, i agree that sometimes having self-esteem leads to pride and definitely a sense of entitlement. i think that everyone (myself included) needs to stop focusing so much on themselves, and instead focus on loving others and then feelings of self-worth will follow as will (i believe) success. but i'm not very business-minded or whatever, so i don't really know how this relates to that... but this is what your post made me think about :)

  3. Interesting. I don't know if I'd thought of that connection before. Taking what you said another step, the sense of entitlement that may come in part from "self-esteem" definitely leads to the overspending and debt that plagues the country. My mom told me a story about one time someone was trying to get her to buy some massage items, or buy something at a spa, and the lady trying to sell her it said "oh you should get it. You deserve it." My mom said something to the effect of "Of course I deserve it. Everyone deserves to be taken care of. The point is that I can't afford it." I think that line of thinking is a big problem: I'm a good person, I do lots of good things, so I deserve this, and I'm going to have it whether or not it makes financial sense for me to indulge in it. Because I'm worth it.

  4. i totally agree that entitlement is a huge problem. i like what brinestone said about being "above" things, i think that's exactly it. i had a friend here at university that "direly" needed a job, but would apply to the highest positions and jobs and not apply to anything they just didn't want to do. she couldn't find work for years, and finally ended up working a custodial job when it came down to doing that or quitting school. i think it's interesting that no one's brought up parents, because i think that's where it all starts: parents march into schools and berate the teacher for their parents grades, pull strings to get their kids jobs, tell their kids they're incredible and the best, etc. i think individualism has just spun super out of control.