Seth Godin had a post on entitlement versus worthiness a couple weeks ago. There was a lot in there to unpack and I am not sure I have wrapped my head around it enough to know if what he posits is entirely true or not, but I thought I would toss it out there for general discussion.
There is a lot in the post that is applicable to the arts. Perhaps most obvious is the following:
Both entitlement and unworthiness are the work of the resistance. The twin narratives make us bitter, encourage us to be ungenerous, keep us stuck. Divas are divas because they’ve tricked themselves into believing both narratives–that they’re not getting what they’re entitled to, and, perversely, that they’re not worth what they’re getting.
At first I wondered if it were really true that divas felt like they weren’t worth what they were getting. Then I thought about all the conflicting narratives associated with art.
On the one hand you have the entitlement ideas: the prescriptive view that arts are good for everyone; if people just saw our work once, they would be hooked; arts participation as a sign of maturity and culture; one’s practice being “true” art versus that of others.
Compare that with the sense of worth associated with the arts: low pay; suffer for your art; making money=selling out; arts education isn’t important in schools; arts careers are dead ends.
In that context, it is easier to see why you can feel both entitled to more, but worth less, than you are getting.
Godin continues with some concepts that have likely passed through the minds of many in the arts on more than one occasion. (emphasis mine)
The entitled yet frightened voice says, “What’s the point of contributing if those people aren’t going to appreciate it sufficiently?” And the defensive unworthy voice says, “What’s the point of shipping the work if I don’t think I’m worthy of being paid attention to…”
The universe, it turns out, owes each of us very little indeed. Hard work and the dangerous commitment to doing something that matters doesn’t get us a guaranteed wheelbarrow of prizes… but what it does do is help us understand our worth. That worth, over time, can become an obligation, the chance to do our best work and to contribute to communities we care about.
When the work is worth it, make more of it, because you can, and because you’re generous enough to share it.
Those last couple sentences about contributing to communities and making more because you’re generous to share it are essential cornerstone sentiments of the non-profit arts.
Where I pause is at the question of, “are you generous enough to share it” for free? There is a lot of debate in the arts about working “for the exposure” that Godin’s post brushes up against.
While his stressing the that hard work does help us understand our worth does imply that one should be receiving their worth, the way he ends his post doesn’t definitively settle the question about whether you should hold out for what you are worth.
“I’m not worthy,” isn’t a useful way to respond to success. And neither is, “that’s it?”
It might be better if we were just a bit better at saying, “thank you.”