A Case Study in Resilience vs Entitlement

Young Man Exercising Indoor Climbing Gym

I want to tell you a story about Gino.

Back in Italy in the 1930s, Gino was a young hard-working farmer. Each day he’d rise early to attend to his crop and prepare goods to sell at markets and independent stores in his local area.

With little education and living rurally, Gino’s modest life was about to take a turn for the worse.

For six years, from 1939 to 1945, Gino and millions of other Europeans suffered through the horrors of World War 2. In the aftermath of the destruction, Italy was a country on its knees.

The Italian Historical Society states that the Italian government of the 1950s and 1960s struggled to feed, house and find employment for its citizens and so actively promoted migration to Argentina, Canada and Australia.

Like so many other Italians, Gino felt immigration was his best chance to create a better life.

In 1952, Gino arrived in inner-city Melbourne with limited English, no money, no job and no place to live. While not facing the devastation of war, Gino’s prospects weren’t great.

Yet, Gino never looked at his situation with pity. He knew that if he wanted a better life, he would have to build it.

I want to tell you a story about Amber.

Born into a middle-class family in the late 90s, Amber is in her early-20s and lives in a safe suburb of Sydney with her parents and two siblings.

Life for Amber has been one of comfort. Her parents have worked to ensure she gets a good education and is surrounded by the things she needs (and often things she wants).

As a student, Amber would be described as average at best but it hasn’t stopped her passing each year and is now enrolled in an Arts degree at university. Creativity is her passion and despite lack of jobs within her field, Amber is pursuing a career as an artist.

Her free time is spent socialising with her friends in Bondi and building her Instagram following for her artistic work.

Amber’s parents have worked hard and can afford to support her through university study. They believe her artistic talent should be nurtured and that casual or part-time work will take time away from her future creative success.

Hasn’t the world changed in the last few generations?

Gino’s was forced into locating overseas with limited opportunity after WW2. While Amber has never really experienced hardship and her life continues as she wants it uninterpreted.

While I don’t wish war on anybody, what Gino’s experience taught him is resilience and perhaps, Amber’s circumstance is teaching her entitlement.

Entitlement is a major contributor to why millennials feel they can never get ahead in life.

Jon Krakauer, author of Into the Wild, sums up entitlement best:

“It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it.”

Obviously, there are examples of millennials doing their bit to achieve but many aren’t prepared to do the hard work required to get to where they want to be because they’ve never had to – life has just fallen into their lap.

What caused the change?

We’re blessed to live in Australia. Even now, as Gino did many years ago, so many risk it all to cross rough seas for the opportunities we have.

But such a blessed country comes with a downside. Our (relatively) safe and prosperous lives have meant we’ve never been forced to face adversity and build our resilience.

Often it’s parents who have to take the blame here. They have sheltered their children from every conceivable difficult situation that in previous generations would have taught valuable lessons. And, of course, they consistently reinforce to their kids that they are brilliant and destined for greatness.

“My eight-year-old is an amazing singer. We’re entering her in a competition. I suspect she’ll win easily”.

“Copper is a gifted cricket player. His coach says he could play for Australia one day”.

Ever had a conversation with a parent like this? It’s grotesque.

Unfortunately, this parenting behaviour is furthered throughout the educational years.

School used to teach students that not everybody wins, all the time. Now every student gets a gold star for just turning up. School sporting events have been known to level the scoreboard towards the end of the game despite the actual result, so nobody feels like they’ve lost.

These situations continue into higher and tertiary education. Students are passed subject after subject, year after year even if they’ve failed to complete the required workload adequately.

And of course, social media leads to over-inflated opinions of users as they post meaningless selfies and statements in search of the adulation of others.

Fail fast

There’s really only one way to correct the ledger, learn to fail and do it quickly.

Truth is, the world owes you nothing. Without the protection of your parents, it will beat you up, spit you out and smile as it walks away. And your support network can’t (or won’t) always be there.

If you don’t have the emotional tools to deal with this, you’re in big trouble when it happens.

Failing teaches reliance and in life that’s one of the most important attributes you can have.

Here’s how to build your resilience:

Ask yourself, is your problem really that big? Losing a game of footy is not a big deal when compared to losing your life during a war. Chances are, what you face is nowhere near as daunting as you think it is. Almost always someone else is worse off than you.

Failure will happen, get over it: In the real world, you’re never going to win or succeed every time. It’s impossible. The quicker you realise your life will (and should) be littered with failure, the better. If you never fail, how do you learn?

Learn from failure: Failure is only terminal if you refuse to learn from it. When you fail, put in place processes that enable you to assess what went wrong and how it can be corrected next time. This can be as simple as noting down the situation on paper.

Failure doesn’t last: Whatever it is you fail at, the sun will rise the following morning and the world has moved on. Australia’s second-longest serving Prime Minister, John Howard, failed in his first attempt to become party leader. Years later he got his chance again and went on to become a long-serving and (generally) liked leader.

Meet failure head-on: Nothing can hold you back if you take up the challenge head-on. Failure cannot win against somebody willing to back themself and learn from their experience. Be confident, be brave.

In business or in life, I believe the more you fail the more you succeed as long as you’re prepared to learn from what went wrong. It will teach you resilience.

Leaving the comfort of his own life, Gino headed for a place he’d never laid eyes on. His life turned out alright.

Australia didn’t offer Gino an opportunity. Gino used Australia to create his success through being prepared to resiliently face adversity head-on.

Looking back on his life, Gino was most proud of the fact he built a grocery store from nothing, started a family, bought a home in Melbourne and saw his kids grow up healthy and happy.

Not bad for somebody who arrived with limited English, no money, no job and no place to live.

Amber’s success is still yet to be determined but she hasn’t been helped by the formation of her entitlement. When things deviate from her expectations, will she be armed with the tools to deal with her situation, learn from it and push through it? Or will Amber crumble like a house of cards?

Deliberately finding hardship in order to build resilience is silly. But shielding people from experiences that they can grow and learn from is worse. Failure is a part of life, but it doesn’t define you. Know your worth and don’t give up on your dreams.