What’s your biggest fear?
Most often, if you ask someone this, their answer is something like…heights, or drowning beneath a ring of fire, or having a snake crawl out of a toilet and bite your butt.
While these are all justifiably frightening, my greatest fear has always been living an ordinary life. The terror of settling for something that isn’t everything I want shoots shivers down my spine and sends me into a thought pattern of negativity.
At one point, I was on the cusp of settling for a career that was safe but not fulfilling and a relationship that would be comforting, but not invigorating and bursting with excitement. It came down to a few moments where I was faced with the hard choice: to stay, or go. Every time I have decided to leave, and every time I look back happy that I did.
People constantly settle for things: a lackluster job, a loveless relationship, an unhealthy body weight, or a limited mindset. None of these are adding to life. So the question is: why do people settle?
I set out to determine what happens when we do settle, why people do it and how to break free from this fearful state.
What happens when we settle?
To start, you are always tired. You might be thinking that is a weird behavior to correlate with settling, but it’s true. A settled life will leave you feeling more exhausted than one where you are pursuing, creating, and exploring. Why? Because when you are excited about life, it actually gives you more energy. You wake up each day stoked to get the coffee brewing and dive into what could possibly unfold.
When you settle, you never change. You know exactly what you are going to get and you can safely find comfort and solace in this predictability. It’s like living life permanently in your lounge wear. Sure, you don’t have to get on a dress and heels, but how often do you feel sexy, and truly alive in those frumpy jamies?
You feel regretful, not for what you did, but for what you didn’t do. A quote by Lewis Carroll sums this up beautifully, “In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we didn’t have and the choices we didn’t make.”
While this might sound like a heap of a bad time, don’t worry, because this doesn’t have to be your life! In order to shift into a life of possibility, let’s consider why you might be settling right now.
Why do we settle?
We tend to forget that although we are wildly intelligent and capable, we are still animals. And animals have instincts that subconsciously act to protect us from harm. Stepping out into the world, leaving any form of “safety” to push your personal, social, creative or physical limits puts your animal sense into hyper drive.
But most of the things we fear won’t actually kill us. Think about it, applying for your dream job won’t kill you, kissing the guy you like won’t land you in the hospital, unless you’re allergic to peanuts and he had just eaten Reese’s peanut butter cup…then maybe. But you get the point. The majority of what you fear won’t hurt you, if anything, it will make your life better.
2. Change is hard.
Deep down, we don’t want to change. We resist change because there is a belief that we’ll lose something valuable or fear we’ll never adapt to the new ways. You don’t leave your partner because of the risk you won’t find someone else who will put up with your relatives and watch the Bachelorette with you. You don’t leave your job because you don’t want to walk away from the cushy health insurance and a window desk. These are completely justifiable reasons to stay. But are they true? Is there really no one else on the planet more compatible than the person who is only 80% compatible with you? Is there no other job on the planet that can offer you health insurance? No.
How to stop settling.
1. Get radically honest with yourself.
When I say radical honesty, I don’t mean live out the movie Liar Liar with Jim Carrey and only tell people exactly what you think of their dress, the presentation they just gave, or the deviled eggs they served at the holiday dinner. I mean, be honest with you.
The truth is, you already know exactly what you need to do. Settling isn’t about not having options, it comes down to deciding whether to ignore that voice that lives inside of you or not. Settling means, you look at a situation, hear that whisper that says, “we want something else” and choose to stuff it down into the bottom of your purse, right next to a wad of CVS receipts and an old Chapstick.
Choose to get radically honest by carving out some time and asking yourself these questions:
· If I change nothing about my life, where will I be in 5 years?
· What do I know that I wish I didn’t know?
· What am I hiding from?
· Would I want to be with me?
The value of radical honesty is in allowing yourself to get real with what you’re actually doing. In a recent study by Eurich, 95% of people thought they were self-aware, but only 10–15% actually were. The reason being, we are happier when we see ourselves in a more positive light.
This whole radical honesty thing might sound dark and mean, but it’s all how you choose to look at what truths come up. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable and say, “Hey I don’t like this about myself…let’s change that!” View your answers and honesty as an exciting opportunity to see how much you can grow.
2. Create goals that hover on the edge.
Set goals that scare you and follow the formula that helps you achieve them. One thing I have learned over the years is that without a goal we are simply left floating down a river, likely to end up in some drain pipe where a possum builds a home. You don’t want to end up there.
Take time to create goals that challenge you, just enough. The key here is to find a sweet spot where the goal is a reach, but not such a reach that you are left feeling defeated every day. In the book The Talent Code, the author Daniel Coyle discusses hovering right at the edge of your abilities in order to find the deepest and most efficient way to grow.
For example, you could be lofty and create the goal to, “write a book in 3 months”, in theory, that’s possible, but about three weeks in, when all you have is an outline and a few rough chapters it’s going to be overwhelming and feel impossible to complete. So, start small, and instead create the goal to, “write for one hour every day”. This is possible, and the more days in a row you write for an hour, the more competent, and confident, you will become in creating a bigger and brighter future for yourself.
Choose a goal just beyond your present abilities. Thrashing around not knowing what to do doesn’t help, but standing on your tip-toes and reaching does.
3. Learn how to be yourself.
You won’t know if your settling in life unless you have an idea of what you and your life could be. Take time to find out what you love about yourself and the life you presently have and choose to embrace them no matter how different they may be.
The things we once disliked about ourselves often become what makes us great. When we were young, we were all directed to be the same, we all wanted to “fit in”. But now, what makes you thrive, what makes life unique and beautiful is the differences and obscurities that live within you.
I used to hate having red hair, I was made fun of for it and wanted to dye it blonde. But now, my red hair is what makes me stand out in acting auditions, it is what people remember me by, its why most guys have a “thing” for me, and it is something I truly love about myself.
Start to do what lights you up. Make space to do things that connect you more with your heart, and a little less with your head. This could be taking an art class, going on a backpacking trip, or learning a new language. If you try something and hate it…perfect, that means you know even more about who you are.
If you try to follow some pre-prescribed prescription, you aren’t going to get too far. As Oscar Wilde so eloquently stated, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”
Life is way too short to settle for anything less than what you truly want. Stop wasting your precious time and start spending it fully living.
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This article first appeared on Medium.