This Is Your Life: Don’t Settle

(This is cross-posted at BlogHer.)

I would say I’m very resistant to the word “settling.” As in, I hate the thought of it. Being on my deathbed and feeling like I “settled” with my life is one of the worst things I can think of. My personal definition of settling: “I’m unhappy with the way things are, but I’m not going to try anything new. This is where I am, and this is how I’m going to remain for the foreseeable future.”

I think I’m so resistant to settling because I’ve seen other people who have done so, and not wanting this for myself has affected the choices I’ve made. (Now if only I could say I’d succeeded in everything I wanted to accomplish — that would be nice, wouldn’t it?)

Some people are of the mindset that your job exists solely to make money, and you should reserve your “play time” for the off-hours. And there’s a certain amount of truth to that, but it’s not the entire answer. Sure, not everyone will be able to do a job they truly love. But if you’re discontent with your workplace, you also have to think about how challenged you feel; if the job you’ve been doing is continuing to help you grow as a person.

This is why people — especially young people — tend to change jobs so much more often now than they used to. We’re testing out different things; discovering what we’re good at; what we do and don’t enjoy doing. I know I’ve had jobs in the past that I didn’t care for, but at least I can sit here and tell you WHY I didn’t like them. And when I look at job ads, I automatically know which titles I can skip over, which ones I wouldn’t want to do, because I’ve been there already.

But when I talk about settling, I’m not only talking about jobs. Settling can also mean staying with the same guy for years and years because it’s the easiest thing to do, or because you’re worried about striking out on your own. It can also mean not taking a class you’re interested in (whether it’s belly dancing, painting, or an early-morning boot camp), because you don’t know if you’ll be good at it.

The subject of inspiration, or encouraging people to step out of their comfort zones and try something new, is often on my mind. If someone tells me they’re thinking about quitting their job to try something new, or there’s a possibility they might move to a new state, I’m always the first one to say, “Wow! That’s awesome. Good for you!”

I wish I were more fearless than I am. Being resistant to settling hasn’t made me an ultra-adventurous person. As much as we may like to, we can’t change the way we are. But I’m certainly different than I was ten years ago, and I suspect that ten years from now I’ll have accomplished a lot more than what I have up to this point.

So what have I learned so far?

I’ve learned that I need to be more proactive, or else the things I want to do in my life are likely not going to happen.

In other words, if I’m not the one to initiate changes in my life, I can’t rely on someone else to make things happen for me. If you want a different job, you’re not likely to find it if you don’t carve out time to read job ads and write cover letters. I know more people who are discontent with their current jobs than those who like what they do, but very few of those who are discontent are actively pursuing something new.

I need to stop thinking about doing things in the future, some day, and make actual plans.

For instance, I know this absolutely wonderful woman who was my best friend growing up. She moved to Tampa almost two years ago and I’ve been meaning to visit her ever since (a year ago I even made it #50 on my 101 Things list). She ended up calling me out of the blue the other night and after I got off the phone I just knew. I knew that I have to make the time to see her.

The ball is really in my court on this one. She has a two-year-old daughter, so it’s harder for her to travel. It’s more difficult for her to take time off work. I have plenty of vacation time saved up. I live just two metro stops from National Airport, so I can get there in about 7 minutes. Flights from DC to Tampa aren’t expensive, and I can stay with her once I get there — so I won’t have to pay for a hotel or rental car. I’ve never been to Tampa, and it’s still early enough in the year that it won’t be all nasty-hot like it’ll be in a few months. With all those factors in my favor, there’s no excuse for me to keep putting off something I’ve been meaning to do for so long. The time is now.

I need to stop being scared of trying something new because I think I might not be any good at it.

I haven’t taken a class outside of school or work since I was much younger than I am now. Dancing, kickboxing, swimming? Nuh-uh. Have I thought it might be interesting to try something new? Certainly.

Yes, I was worried that whatever class I might decide to take, I might not like it, or wouldn’t be good at it. Fact: I’m no longer in school. If I start taking a class and I hate it, there’s nothing stopping me from dropping out (other than the fact I’ve paid for it). Fact: Nobody really cares how good/bad I am at something, other than me, so I really need to stop worrying so much. Also, just like previous jobs I’ve had that I hated — but where I was able to learn what I don’t want to do in the future — I suspect taking a new class would work the same way. If I don’t like something, at least I’ll be able to say why I didn’t like it. And who knows? Maybe I’ll have the opposite experience instead, and pursuing a new skill will change my life in a way I never previously imagined.

Every time I’ve done something I hadn’t tried before, even if I never did it a second time, I’ve never regretted making that first attempt — and I need to keep reminding myself of that. This is my life. This is my chance.

What have you done, or what are you planning to do, to make sure you don’t settle?

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