Have you ever worked closely with someone who is lazy? Have you ever been on a team with someone who does just enough work to keep from losing their job, but never goes one ounce beyond that to help their team? Does it make you want to pull your hair out when someone in your workplace feels like they are entitled to bonuses and compensation raises and better benefits?
Sure you have.
Have you, however, stopped to consider that this person had to learn how to be entitled?
Entitlement is a learned behavior.
Not long ago I was in a conversation with a friend who was complaining about younger generations in the workforce and how they feel entitled to just about everything around them. I said, “You know, we give younger generations a hard time, but if I’m being honest, we did it to them. For the past 25 years we’ve told our kids ‘hey if you’ll just show up and participate we will reward you with a trophy.'”
Literally, if you think about it, the message is, “If you’ll put forth the absolute lowest amount of effort possible – just show up – we will consider that a victory and reward you with a prize!”
I have the privilege of working with a few Millennials who absolutely do not have an entitlement mentality. They are incredibly engaged, proactive teammates who are the furtherest thing from entitled.
However, just like you, I’ve also worked with grown adults that are toxic with entitlement.
Entitlement is a learned behavior.
I want something better for our future generations than entitlement. I want those coming behind me to see that hard work pays off far better than entitlement ever will.
Entitlement starts with how we raise our kids. It’s for that reason, I am a passionate objector to participation trophies. The “Everyone Gets a Participation Trophy” is an esteem killer. There’s open debate out there on whether or not participation trophies are good for a kid. Kobe Bryant doesn’t mind them, but Bryce Harper hates them.
In my experience as a coach in my community, trophies for showing up are undermining a kid’s self-esteem. Why? Because, in the end, everyone gets a trophy is dishonest.
Everyone gets a trophy breeds entitlement. I’ll never forget being a young dad and going to a coaches meeting for T-Ball. My oldest son Cole was in his first year to play organized sports. In that coaches meeting one of the returning coaches asked, “Hey, y’all, this season, if a kid gets thrown out at first base are we going to pull them off the bag and make them return to the dugout?”
The shocking thing was that several coaches were showing hesitation about pulling a kid off the bag who was thrown out.
I would love to have had someone capture my expression in a photo in that moment because I was in utter disbelief at what I was hearing.
I spoke up, nicely [seriously I was kind about it] and said, “Well, if we don’t pull them off the bag when they are thrown out, what’s the incentive to ask that kid to run when they hit the ball? And what kind of injustice is it to the kid who worked hard enough to field a ground ball and make a great throw in order to throw the batter out? And if that’s all the case … we’ve got to rename this sport, because it’s not baseball. We are literally teaching them to fail at the most basic level of the game itself. We are not preparing them for the next level of ball should they go on to play the game.”
God does not honor complacency and He does not honor entitlement.
Entitlement is an old problem. There was a group of people in a small church called Thessalonica who were waiting on Jesus to return and had become lazy.
Paul, an apostle of Christ, spoke to that situation in a letter and said, “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies” [2 Thessalonians 3:10-11]
Everyone gets a trophy diminishes human worth. Participation trophy cultures are a false representation of how life works.
If a kid learns to depend on someone else for everything, it will ruin them for the foreseeable future.
We are called to be givers. We are called to be full of mercy. We are called by God to help those who are downtrodden.
However, we are not called to diminish someone’s sense of worth. And there’s nothing life-giving about entitlement.
You might be thinking, “Well, what about self-esteem? A kid needs encouragement and trophies give them confidence.”
A child doesn’t need a participation trophy to validate their worth. In fact, I’d say that giving them trophies to signify their worth is a catastrophe in the making. You want to teach your child that their self-worth isn’t wrapped up in something made by human hands, lest they become idol chasers.
Worth comes from a child discovering God’s love for them found in Christ. And when they can find their worth in who Christ is, they won’t chase it in something as dream-crushing as the pursuit of bigger trophies that cannot satisfy their heart in the end.
Everyone gets a trophy distorts God’s created design in people. God did not create everyone as equals. His love for us is the same, but we are not equals.
Have you ever seen Michael Jordan play basketball? We are not created equally. Have you ever seen Jordan Spieth play golf? We are not all created equally. Have you ever heard Adele or Whitney Houston sing? Ever seen Simone Biles do what she does best in gymnastics?
Ever seen a single mom hold down a job and raise a great kid, or three?
Ever seen a 23 year-old create an algorithm that make a smartphone smarter?
We are not created equally. Yet we are all created uniquely.
One of the very first truths I taught my sons when they were just starting to play sports is that they weren’t going to be a rock star at every turn. Somewhere along the way every kid became a “rock star.” So guess what happens when kids are forced to play a role on a team? They get angry because they aren’t the center of attention.
No, I wasn’t going to set my sons up for failure by allowing them to compare themselves to someone else. I wanted them to see that they had special talents to offer their team, and I also wanted them to see that their talents were only part of the equation. Every pitcher needs a catcher. Every running back needs a blocker. Every lead singer needs a drummer to keep the beat.
Steve Jobs needed Steve Wozniak.
Paul needed Ringo, Ringo need John, and John needed Paul in order for them to all become The Beatles.
The Bible tell us in Ephesians 4 that God gave us individual gifts … but those gifts were given to us to use for His glory and for the betterment of other people, especially for the advancement of His Church.
For almost a decade I’ve coached my sons in youth football. One of the most difficult truths I’ve had to teach many young boys on my teams is to be passionate about playing a role.
What I saw in many of these boys over the years is that if they couldn’t score, if they couldn’t be the one to put the ball into the end zone, they didn’t even want to play! Literally.
I’ll never forget having a team meeting with my 9 year old boys one year and explaining to them that not all of them can score a touchdown on every play … but they can all score together by doing their job and win as a unit.
So why in the world does this matter?
It matters because you want to set your son and daughter up for success. It matters because you and I both often forget – easily forget – that little compromises seem small at the moment but have huge consequences in the long run.
Compromises are simply a backdoor pathway of least resistance that installs bad habits which become incredibly hard to unlearn.
It happened to me just the other day with my youngest son, Tucker.
We were having a pretty intense training session on the sand. I play beach volleyball and I try and incorporate my sons into it every chance I get.
Tucker loves competing for anything. We were running a practice drill and I told him that if he could chase down 9 out of the 10 shots and get a hand on them (attempt a dig) then I’d get him a ice cream on the way home.
He’d done this drill before and he’s super impressive. More often than not he gets to stop at Sonic on the way home!
However, that day he kept missing. Practice wasn’t over, though. We had a few more drills to complete.
Each time I’d offer him another opportunity in a new drill: work to get the 9 out of 10 and he can get the reward.
On the last drill, he was at 7 for 7. And he missed number 8. No problem. He could still recover. He was allowed one miss.
He got number 8!
Number 9 comes … and he’s misses.
I was torn for him. He was bleak with disappointment.
In that moment I had to have an honest talk between my head and my heart. Seriously. My heart wanted desperately – and I mean desperately – to say, “Hey buddy, you’ve worked your heart out for an hour and so you deserve it.”
Yet I knew that he did not earn it. I knew better. And so did Tucker.
So he asked me on the way off the court, “Dad can I have another chance?” I said, “No, son, practice is over. But there will be more practices. What I’m proud of you for is that you didn’t quit, and you’re better for it.”
I had to keep my son’s life in mind when he would one day be 38 … and not currently the age of 8.
Entitlement is a learned behavior. And we must not breed it.
So what do you do next?
Start The Conversation Now. You don’t have to wait until your sons and daughters are grown adults to help them discover what God made when He made them. You can start right now helping your son and daughter discover their gifts by having honest conversations about who God made when He made them. One of the deepest appreciations I have for ClearView is in our Kids Ministry leaders who work super hard to help your child discover not only who they are – but how also to take those discoveries and bring glory to God by serving others with their gifts.
Refuse To Play The Comparison Game. In the world of social media where our children are forever comparing their lives to the lives their friends portray on digital platforms, start bringing light to the dark world of comparison. Every time they talk about how they don’t measure up or how they cannot compete, be honest about it. Help them discover where they do thrive. Help them discover where they do stand out, and cultivate that. Focus on what they are built for instead of obsessing over what some other kids does better than they do.