On another airplane. This time, Medellin to Toronto.
I used to dream about this. Even just 5 years ago. As a kid in university, I split my time reading startup and travel blogs instead of textbooks and lecture slides. Working on technology that makes a difference, with a small team and travelling? Unicorns seemed more probable. I had nothing but self doubt and ambiguity. So I did what 21 year olds do — naively work at it anyways.
The great thing about being a broke ass, unqualified student is that you have nothing to lose. Literally nothing — no money, no reputation, and no “connections”. So, outside of your own ego, you’re free to hustle as hard as humanly possible. Cold emailing people for coffees, doing free work, cold emailing people for free work. The glory days.
But something awful happens as you grow up. Once you go from broke ass student, to broke ass employee, to regular ol’ employee — entitlement creep rears its hideous head. Not just in your career, but in your everyday life.
Entitlement creep: When you start to believe you deserve certain things solely because of who you are as a human being.
Work that you would’ve killed to do for free at the beginning of your non-existent career, now appalls you to do at their “low ball” rate. You stop piling your dishes for a waiter because you’re paying for some fancy dinner, so that’s their job. Or you’re distraught that you’re travelling somewhere colder than where you started (God, not Whistler again). You begin to become someone your younger self would’ve punched in the face. Twice.
I don’t know anyone immune to this.
My version of entitlement creep came in the form of transportation. I was too good for public transportation. The rationale was disguised as “the amount of time saved is worth the extra ten dollars”, which might be true, but that wasn’t the real reason. Being able to drive / Uber everywhere meant a level of entitlement over people who had to use public transportation. Ugh, it almost makes me physically sick.
It’s so easy to forget what’s gotten you to where you are today. So easy to believe your own hype and drink your own kool-aid. The best people I know fight this ruthlessly and constantly think about the kind of person they are, want to be and never want to be.
There are two things that have proven effective to fight EC personally: a gratitude practice (like this one) and chasing new perspectives.
But it’s not bulletproof. This morning, I found myself bitching and complaining about going back to Toronto to “brave the cold” like it’s some kind of heroic effort. Then I remembered the two 17 year olds I met in Medellin who told me they would do anything to see snow in real life. I made a mental note of that EC, put on my hoodie and made my way to the airport.
If you’re reading this, I just want to say thank you. I don’t know how you got here but I’m always grateful for the people who actually read the words that I write. The last 527 words were basically a rant to myself, so… sorry for that. But in case there’s a 20 year old future me reading this, I want to send her a few stark reminders to kill any entitlement and to get to work.
What I would tell 20 year old Eva (Scene: lying in bed, in a basement room, reading article after article, never going class):
- Find the unorthodox path and follow it. Whatever you see the majority doing (going to grad school, applying to corporate jobs) do the opposite.
- Don’t ask for permission. If necessary, ask for forgiveness. Be relentless and break rules often, that’s what they’re there for.
- Don’t ever let your ego stop you from hustling. Never believe you’re too good for something. That’s where talent goes to die.
- Work your ass off. You’re not entitled to anything, and neither is the next person. Work on being better everyday.
- The team and the work are the only things that matter. If you’re not the dumbest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
- Try to take every random coffee request. Strangers providing help is how you got started.
- Your luck will come in the form of mentors. They’ll believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself. Invest in these relationships.
- Always choose quality over quantity. Whether that’s friends, business relationships, jeans — pay the small batch premium.
- Never believe your own hype. They won’t know you, then they’ll start paying attention — neither matters, you’re never as good or as bad as anyone thinks.
- Practice generosity, regardless of your financial state. If you’re not willing to give a dollar when you have ten dollars, you won’t give a hundred when you have a thousand. Also, it just feels good to give.
- Define your priorities for the next decade. Use them as your guiding principles to make decisions. You haven’t been wrong yet.
- Run far from “normal” and “shoulds”. You’re different — how you think, the way you want to live, the way you hold chopsticks. Come into your quirks, embrace them and give zero shits about what people think.
- Stop buying shit. Having more physical things than you can carry in your backpack clouds your mind and limits your mobility.
And stop being an impatient jerk to dad. Seriously.