Spinning on the coin’s edge

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“Presence is a far more rewarding and intricate art than productivity.”

– Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

There is a word that crops up a lot on the Internet, in an alarming array of contexts. “Entitlement”. Entitlement of gender, entitlement of having access to a certain technology, entitlement to an opinion. “Entitlement” might just knock “privilege” off its spot as ‘number one keyword that makes everyone froth at the mouth’.

Yet today, I want to talk about sense of entitlement; my own, to be exact.

For the past week, I’ve been dealing with a nasty illness, a by-product of a congenital condition that has been getting progressively worse the older I get. Needless to say, productivity has been low, and for someone with “type A tendencies” this is pretty much all the encouragement one needs to go down a rabbit hole of self-reprimands and doubt.

Those familiar with seminal works in psychology might have read Erik H. Erikson describe the pendulum swings between the id and the super-ego: on one hand, I’ve got what I wish or could have done, while on the other, I have what I should have done. “I deserve…” vs “It’s my fault.” The pendulum swings and swings, only passing the golden middle for a little while before veering off into the next extreme. (See: Childhood and Society, 1950:175)

The pendulum is an apt metaphor for what the constant swinging between attitudes of entitlement and self-flagellation does to me. It calls to mind a hypnotists’ watch, disorienting and vertigo-inducting. Yet, I find ‘two faces of the same coin’ a much better illustration for what these two attitudes are. I should be productive, I deserve to be productive (and thus have all the positives associated with productivity today, such as professional success and a good work-life balance) – this is essentially the same thing, just seen from different points of view. “I should” – I compare myself to others and find myself lacking and thus I have to compensate. “I deserve” – I see myself as entitled to a certain thing due to some personal quality that cannot be measured, and thus I have to compensate (or the world needs to compensate).

Both are equally frustrating.

The only “cure” as far as I can tell is to spin the coin, slow the pendulum down, and stay as close to the middle as possible. The ego, to use Erikson and Freud’s terms, which looks at everything and has an awareness of reality outside of our own perceptions. (Of what the story is that we tell ourselves, according to Brene Brown, and what the rest of the people around us are actually doing or saying.) Because we have gravity, the coin will eventually fall and the pendulum will swing faster, but if we did it once, we can do it again.

In layman’s terms, this means: I am sick. I will do my best today. It will be enough.

Get off the high horse.

There’s no room for it right now.

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