Commonplace Miracles: From Entitlement to Gratitude
Two weeks ago, I talked about my amazing job interview experience, and last week I took you on a virtual reality-like trip offshore to experience my first days on the job with me. The dating, the engagement, the wedding, and now the honeymoon. All very exciting, memorable moments. Yes, job and marriage are analogous. In those early days, when people asked me about my job, I’d tell them about the “mysterious majesty of the ocean,” or about the “super smart folks I got to room and board with.” At one time, I stood on the mezzanine deck of the oil rig, gazed at the towering man-made floating wonder, and was moved to tears at its sheer beauty. I was in awe of extreme engineering, of human ingenuity at its best, of what we are capable of when dreams trump fears.
Unfortunately, this honeymoon phase did not last. After a while, the excitement of getting on the helicopter was replaced by the dread of what could happen if the rotors failed in the middle of the ocean; dread, in turn, was replaced by indifference. I just wanted to get on and get off. Initially, when I stepped on the helideck of an oil platform, I usually took a moment to take in the view, to appreciate the triumph of genius, capital, and will that birthed the colossal enterprise I was stepping on. But soon enough, the novelty wore off. My initial feelings of awe dried up. I saw no beauty in the inanimate facility. I think, at one time, I even referred to it in my diary as “soulless.” Once I arrived at the platform, I started the countdown to when I got to go back home. It became just another job. In short, I stopped being grateful for what I had, for where I was.
Ingratitude is creepy, literally. It creeps up on you. It is unusual to be grateful one day and to feel opposite the next day. We don’t change that fast. The cycle usually starts when something is introduced into our lives that we consider somewhat miraculous. We feel so undeserving to be the recipient of such a good gift. We hardly have the words to describe how great this new addition to our lives is, and how thankful we are for it. But once the gift, the miracle, becomes entrenched, it begins to feel normal. And normal isn’t exciting. We don’t thank God for normal. Getting my job was a miracle, and even the job itself—producing “black gold” safely from thousands of feet below ground in a harsh marine environment—is a miracle; but it was a miracle that had become so commonplace, day after day, that it failed to excite me. My miracles had become banal.
My dampened attitude eventually affected my performance. Thankfully, I received feedback that I needed to course correct. This forced me to retrace my steps. At what point, exactly, did my gratitude add the prefix “in-”? It took a while, but later it became clear to me that the real culprit was entitlement. Why should I be grateful for what I felt entitled to? If I was to reclaim my attitude of gratitude, I needed to disabuse my mind from the notion that I deserve something. The truth is I deserve nothing. I came into this world with nothing, and I will go out as I came. Whatever I have between my entry and exit has been given to me, and for that I should be thankful. The day I stop being thankful is the day I regress into ingratitude. Like my mum used to say, “Ingratitude resides in the bosom of fools; the wise are always grateful.”
To crawl out of the cesspool of entitlement, I began each day with a simple prayer of thanks. With respect to my job, I’d say, “Thank you, Lord, for my work, my meaningful work.” It is a practice I have since kept. The more I said this, the more meaning I saw in my work. I took pride in the fact that we are creating value for our stockholders, that we are supplying the world with needed energy, that we are protecting the environment, and that we return people safely to their homes after working for us. That early morning prayer of thanksgiving injected my day with gratitude and gave me the positive edge I needed.
I closed each day by writing the highlights in a journal, disciplining myself to write only what is good. Some days are especially hard because you want to write things as they were. But even when an event appeared negative, I would put a positive spin on it as it made its way from my mind, through my fingers, onto the pages—or I would not write it at all. There is no need to memorialize an untoward temporal feeling. Each week, when I looked back at what I wrote, I was usually amazed at all the great things that had happened. By starting each day with verbal gratitude and ending it with written gratitude, I guarded myself from the corrupt feeling of entitlement. I truly felt thankful.
I encourage you to treat everything you have—your marriage, work, friends, possessions and so on—as a gift because, in truth, they are. Don’t take them for granted. Be grateful for them. It makes life sweeter when each day you look at your blessings and you recognize them as such. (For those in the US) Happy Thanksgiving!