I wasn’t really sure what to call this article at first. I think the title I landed on may scare a lot of people away, because the idea of settling seems like poison to most millenials like me. I know I struggled with the thought of settling for a long time, but I now I think it’s not nearly as bad as our society has made it out to be. Everyone tells you to “never settle” and follow your dreams, but at some point you have to make a decision. You have to commit to doing something for some amount of time if you expect anything to come out of it. Otherwise, you’ll just be floating around, dabbling in a little bit of this and that, and you won’t see any results. To get over my fear of settling, I’ve had to rethink what it means. I guess I’ve always known that settling meant deciding to do something that wasn’t perfect for me. I’ve come to terms with the fact that nothing is perfect, and I will have to settle for things that are good enough. I figure, I have pretty high standards, so if I can “settle” for a job, a place to live, a relationship, etc. then that just means I’ve found one that’s good enough, and sure it has its flaws, but so does everything else. Now I get excited about the idea of finding something good enough to settle for.
I think I can enjoy the concept so much because I also understand that nothing ever truly stays the same long term. Things can get better or worse, and people can change. I guess that’s why “settling for something” just seems like such a bizarre concept in the first place. Unless you’re settling for a relationship with a giant un-moving boulder, you’re not really settling for anything or anyone. Everyone changes as they learn and grow, and circumstances are almost constantly in flux. Relationships consist of at least two people, and some relationships even create more people, so they’re never staying the same for long. Businesses are literally organizations filled with people, all of whom are continuously changing. Places are constantly changing too because they’re full of people and businesses who are constantly moving in and out. Have you ever gone back to your hometown and noticed just how different everything seems?
People think they’re settling for a circumstance, but they’re actually settling for an idea. If you decide to settle down in a place, what you’re actually doing is settling yourself with the idea that you could stay in that place for a while. The place will change. You will change. Even if you stay there for the next 50 years, the only thing you will actually have to settle with is the idea that you’re settling in the first place. In 50 years the place will be different. It may become different all around you, or maybe you will decide to make some of your own changes.
I know it’s cliche, but life really is like a roller coaster. It moves fast, has lots of ups and downs, and settling is just deciding which seat you’re going to sit in. It doesn’t really matter. It’s going to be crazy no matter what.
I also know that I can change things when there’s something I don’t like. Sure, I’ve quit jobs, broken off relationships, and moved cities, but I’ve only ever done that after I tried to improve those things. To be clear, I’m not saying you should try to change other people, but if you have a coworker, partner, or neighbor you don’t like, you should express your feelings to them. Most people are trusting and understanding. Most people will make an effort to work with you and help you. Sure, some people are difficult. That’s when you should move to phase 2: change your surroundings. Try not to be around that coworker or neighbor as much. If it’s your partner, maybe have some more alone time, or hang out with your friends more. Make changes to your environment to make it more manageable for you without impeding others. Lastly, if nothing else works, and you genuinely don’t like something or someone. Move on, but take a moment to truly think about whether or not it’s going to be better somewhere else.
Unfortunately, a lot of people get stuck in a “grass is always greener” mode. They move from job to job, relationship to relationship, and city to city. Each time they think the new company, partner, or place will be perfect. It never is, because nothing is perfect. However, there is such a thing as good enough, and some people will tell you you’re settling if you find something that’s good enough. You aren’t though. If nothing is perfect, then good enough is as close as we can get, so it’s basically perfect, and guess what? It’s going to change anyway!
In this modern era, we can go fast, get information even faster, and travel farther and faster than ever before. It makes the world seem like it’s all at our fingertips. Don’t like your job, relationship, or city? You can change all three in a day if you want to. You can get a job and a new relationship using just your phone, and then you can book a flight to a new city too. The options are endless and immediate. As with most things, there are upsides and downsides.
If you decide you really want to make a change, you can make it quickly and painlessly. You can easily try out new things before you decide to make a change. Want to change careers? You can try working in a new job before quitting your current one. Want to change cities? You can find out anything you want to know about any city in the world using the internet, and you can easily visit that place and see if it’s somewhere you’d want to live. I wouldn’t recommend trying out new relationships before ending your current one, but you can always meet new people in platonic settings and get to know them. On the downside, you can also feel overwhelmed from having so many options. Research has shown that having too many choices can make you stressed and unhappy*.
The way to combat these feelings is to just pick an option you like, and try it. Actually give it an honest shot. Don’t worry about what it could become, because it will change, just think about what it is. Don’t worry about whether or not something else is better, because you can make it better. That’s what settling really is. Deciding that something is good enough, and taking action if it ever changes for the worse. Settling is making a commitment to live with a choice for a while by solving any problems that come up, and peacefully enjoying yourself when there aren’t any problems.
The funny and sad thing about having all the options we enjoy in the free world is that we think we like it. Don’t get me wrong, having the freedom to choose between these options is a beautiful thing. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it does put the burden of choice on us, and as technology keeps improving, those choices will continue to become more numerous and the differences between them will become more and more difficult to discern.
So, my advice is, find something you like and do it. Chances are, you won’t have to commit to it for much longer than a day if it doesn’t feel right. If it does feel right, keep doing it. Don’t worry about whether or not it’s going to stay like this. If it starts to feel wrong, don’t quit right away. Keep going. Figure out why it doesn’t feel right. Think of several solutions to fix it. Pick one of those solutions and try it, or try all of them if you have to. If it still feels wrong, try to figure out if something else would feel more right. Try out that thing. Really think about whether or not the new thing feels right because it’s a good fit, or just because it’s different. As humans, we crave variety. If you only like doing something new because it’s different, take what you like about it and incorporate it into the thing you were originally doing.
For example, let’s say you hate your job. If you go try out a different job in your free time (without committing to it full time), and you realize you love interacting with people, bring that back to your original job. Talk to your manager to see if you could be put in a situation where you interact with people more. Maybe you want to work at home more, or on more teams, or more creatively. Maybe you want to write more, or do research, or have more hands-on experience. Whatever you discover that makes your life more interesting, get creative and find ways to bring it back to your current job. You can even try making the change without checking with your manager. Sometimes businesses resist change, and it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. The best case scenario is your company loves the creative twist you put on your job and you get a promotion. The worst case scenario is you get to try something you like doing and you get fired from a job you don’t like doing. This technique works for jobs, relationships, and places. If there’s something you love that’s not part of your life, bring it into your life and see what happens. I bet you’ll feel enhanced, proud, and accomplished for doing it.
Without settling, you’ll just run away any time a problem pops up. Settling down may even help you realize that these problems are actually internal, and that’s why they come up no matter where you take them – every job, relationship, and city that you move to. The only way to realize and address these problems is to settle down first. Sit with your feelings, and figure them out for yourself, then you can work on solving them. That’s the power of settling, you can face your problems and make everything and everyone around you better for it.
* By the way, this TED talk is my favorite video about how too many options can make us unhappy.