At least as far as the surety of financial success, business acumen or even personal freedoms go, America is an entitlement-free zone. Even the idle rich must have some level of competence and drive just to get out of bed in the morning.

While some programs our great government has thrust upon us over the past 80 or 90 years may appear to be so, there are no true entitlements. President Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” the signing of the social Security Act of 1935 may seem like an entitlement program, but you have to pay something in to get something out. As for President Johnson’s Great Society, the passage of medical care and urban improvements, but many of this came from J.F. Kennedy’s stalled programs. Again, you pay in to get something in return.

Of course there are food stamps and other welfare programs, which certainly seem like entitlements, but qualifying for them could be considered ‘limited” to select few over the majority. Even in the past decade of economic turmoil, not everyone qualified for food stamp relief.

Unemployment Insurance, worker’s compensation and other labor related relief programs are funded by someone other than the government.

As Far as Earning a Living Goes

Those fortunate enough to achieve the American Dream (less than 1% of the population) have done so in ways that can sometimes seem like they had it handed to them, there was effort, and payment in some form in order to achieve their level of affluence. The streets are NOT paved in gold, silver or any other precious metal. The streets are paved with the blood, sweat and tears of generations of individuals willing to do what was necessary to put food on the table, and clothes on their backs. There are no guarantees, other than the possibility of an opportunity. Even that is not a complete guarantee, because opportunities come and go all the time.

My grandfather was a young father when the Great Depression hit. My grandmother, and my father and his sisters had a tremendously tough time during those dark years. My father had to leave the family and live with my great aunt and uncle, because my grandfather could not afford to feed him. The smaller children didn’t eat anywhere near as much as a teen aged boy. Together, on Sunday mornings, rather than go to church the family would walk the railroad tracks just to pick up small bits of coal that had fallen from passing rail cars. That coal provided the only heat for their small 2nd floor flat. There was no guarantee for my grandfather, and there is no guarantee for me either. Earning a living is a “do it to yourself” opportunity.
Entitlement-Free Zone

Would’a, Should’a, Could’a

“If I try hard enough, I can be anything I choose to be.” Do you think this way? This is the opposite of entitlement thinking, but just as damaging and wasteful. This is a statement most parents drill into the heads of youth, but it is a mis-statement. Natural talent, timing, ability and capability are parts and pieces that must be present in order for any form of this statement to turn out to be accurate. All the practice and effort in the world will not add up to squat unless there is a combination of talent, timing and external factors involved. “I would’a been great, if only……….I could’a done better if only……….. I should’a done this or that …………. It’s what I call “excuse-itis.

All the bemoaning of fate will do nothing to improve anyone’s situation. Like yesteryear, today is just as tough an era in which to get by, let alone get ahead. While it may make sense to have a dream of “making it,” simply dreaming, or complaining why it didn’t come true won’t pay the rent. Action is the only thing that is a differentiator.

“If only my parents and grandparents were wealthy, I wouldn’t have such a sucky life.” This is a complete farce, if this is your belief system. “I blame my great-grandparents, because if they had a chance to be part of the Land Rush, we’d be rich today.” Believe it or not, some of my former students actually told me that, or versions just like it.

The Little Guy From Chicago’s West Side

Here’s a real-life example how opportunity may be apparent, but seizing it is quite another. Unless action is taken, the opportunities in this life are nothing more than ether.

There was a man from the west side of Chicago, Isiah Thomas, that, despite his diminutive stature (the official height is listed at 6’1”, but in reality much shorter), became one of the NBA’s great athletes. Isiah learned the game from his brother, Lord Henry Thomas, who ended up being lost to the streets. Isiah would be the first one to say that Lord Henry taught him everything about basketball and was the true “great,” but drugs and gangs overpowered him while he was far too young.

There were no assurances that a guy from the ghetto of Chicago, the baby of a house full of Thomas’, could ever amount to anything, let alone a superstar ball player. After all, the gangs of the west side were on constant recruit. Drugs permeated the neighborhood where Isiah lived, and the only respite was the playground of the school in which he went. It was Our Lady of Sorrows, a Basilica. Mary Thomas, his mother, worked there and was provided a break on the tuition in exchange for extra hours of work. Times were tough, even on their best days, times were very tough. Guarantees of success were foreign to the neighborhood, let alone a shrimp of a kid with a dream, and some talent.

With Lord Henry lost, Isiah needed someone to get behind his natural talent and nurture it. That’s when opportunity and preparedness met.

His mother Mary had to fend off the gangs when they came to the door for Isiah. She did so with a shotgun. A nun and priest from the school found ways to nurture Isiah’s talent, provided opportunities for high school and college that would otherwise go unknown, and his natural talent carried him through to the NBA draft.

There were no guarantees, no entitlements, especially for some poor kid from the worst neighborhood in the city. Drive, determination and someone behind him, pushing and leading along the way was how he made it.

How do I know this? A friend of my wife lived down the street from the Thomas family, and Ruby, Isiah’s big sister and my wife were best friends. My wife’s friend watched Isiah grow up from a baby, helping babysit, take him to the playground and make sure no one stole the basketball.

Get With it

Yes, America is the Entitlement-Free Zone. If you are still of the opinion that the world owes you something, that you are entitled to something just because you exist, get with the program. There are no entitlements, no given’s. No slam dunk successes. Hard work, determination, patience, perseverance and talent will get you a chance at success, but not a guarantee. If you want to be part of the 1%, you are going to give more than lip service to effort, desire and persistence. You are going to have talent, timing and certain other forces behind you to make the grade.

Jim Signature Var1-01
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