Do You Serve or Deserve? Part 1

The interview

A young man wearing a suit and tie entered the room, introduced himself, and took a seat before an interview panel of which I was participating in. He was seeking a position as a firefighter with our agency and although he had no previous experience, he spoke as if he were a fifteen-year veteran who had fought fires in the Bronx.

Another panel member posed the question, “Where do you see yourself in five-years?” Without hesitating Andy Arrogant said, “I see myself as the fire chief.” I immediately thought, “Wow! Really!? Are you that arrogant and clueless!?”

The attitude

During my career in the fire service, I had the chance to interview several highly qualified individuals who ultimately became good firefighters and then promoted through the ranks as fire officers. Unfortunately, there were also people who appeared before the interview panel with an attitude of entitlement portraying an arrogant attitude of, “I deserve this.”

People like this are egotistical, puffed up with pride, and selfish. This type of attitude infects people of all ages, sizes, shapes, colors, professions, etc. It is not confined to any one group of society.


Let’s take a minute and look at the word deserve. It means to be worthy of something and used alone, there is nothing wrong with the word. How we make the application is where the problems erupt, and the following two examples show the difference.

First, there is Joe and Betty Schmuckatelli who started a successful business in 2020, but they have not had a vacation in four years. Joe and Betty are working themselves to the bone. One night at supper, Joe looks at Betty and says, “We deserve a vacation.” Yes! Joe is right, they need to get away and unwind.

Next, we have Firefighter Frankie who has been on the job for three years and is testing for the driver/operator position. Frankie has the technical expertise to operate a fire engine, but he has a reputation of thinking highly of himself. During the interview, Lieutenant Larry asks, “Why do you want this position?” Frankie replies, “I’ve been on the fire department for three years now, I know my way around the organization, I think people like me, and I deserve a shot at this.” Yes, I have heard statements like this. Firefighter Frankie has an attitude of entitlement and in his mind, he should be promoted because “I deserve a shot at this.”

Do you see the difference between the two examples? The same word ‘deserve’ appears in both, but the attitude and motivation behind the use is completely different. Joe and Betty have earned the vacation, and they deserve one. Frankie’s use of the word ‘deserve’ revolves around entitlement. In other words, “You owe me.”

In Part 2, we will deconstruct the word deserve and make a practical application.

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