Today we have come to expect a lot. An array of essentials in life, entitlements that would simply dazzle our forebears. The expectation of free wifi, which will allow me to file this column on the move. My absolute entitlement to time off as a father when my new baby is born in April.
These advances are the marks of an ever more civilised society shackling the excesses of capitalism, right? So, the quest for more entitlement must be a good thing, right?
Wrong. With these undoubted advancements has not come, in my view, a similar advance in the happiness of the human condition. Quite the reverse actually and I would argue that the search for entitlement may at worst have gone too far and at best has become self defeating for those that doggedly pursue it. That’s why Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins’ statement - on the need to move from a culture to entitlement to one of service - genuinely matters.
I met with an outstanding entrepreneur, Joe Cohen, recently. I would summarise Joe as the sort of man who lives his life by the motto of what he can do rather than what he deserves.
He told me the story of his grandfather. An immigrant to the US who in the 1930’s worked out that if you could get a Ford car from Pittsburgh to Ohio you could sell it for $50 more. So, he gave up on a life selling potatoes from a barrow with his brothers, raised the cash and using rope pulled his first car over the state line and made his first profit. Thirty years later he had the biggest car dealership in Ohio.
Do you think he felt entitled to be bailed if he failed? Who do you think he thought would pick up the pieces if he couldn’t make a sale? What do you think he might have felt at the lack of an index-linked pension?
This is the mark of the entrepreneur. A person who lives their life free of a sense of entitlement. One who would sacrifice the expectation of what I deserve for the self-reliance of what I can do seven days out of every week.
Becoming an entrepreneur is akin to a purification process. It’s made possible by a life where the expectation of entitlement is replaced by advancement based on your own skills and wit to make a crust. What you attain is fuelled by what you can do and the realisation that your rights mean nothing if you can’t pay for them
Before I worked for myself I had a life that was driven by what I felt I deserved. I wanted to be paid more than the people around me because I felt I had a right to it. I listened, with some sympathy, to colleagues who told me that their flat mates had just received pay rises in a merchant bank and said that they wanted more money because their shared lifestyles demanded it.
I lived in a world where what was important was the perception of what was fair rather than the measurable realities of merit. It is an anxious world that entrepreneurs have a profound difficulty in understanding.
My life today, at least on the surface, is far riskier than it was. I have had to give up a great many things to give my business a chance. I spend less money on myself, no longer by choice, but because I feel less of a driving compulsion to do so anymore. I live a life where I really don’t feel entitled to anything above and beyond what I can deliver and pay for.
And I would say this. The more my sense of entitlement has diminished the happier I have become. The more I have built my own rights the more free I have felt. Why? Because I’m worth it.
Michael Hayman is co-founder of the public relations firm Seven Hills, and co-founder of the national campaign for entrepreneurs StartUp Britain. You can also follow Michael on Twitter.