“We don’t fear our choices, we fear managing the consequences of them by ourselves.” – Caroline Myss (www.myss.com)
Ladies, how many times have you heard, “don’t settle”? If you had a dollar for every time you heard that, you would never need the ATM! No one wants to settle for less than they deserve. But, when we feel pressured we might make choices with what is available and end up with what we don’t want.
When I was a young college graduate starting my career, I heard “don’t settle” from employers, advisors, family members, and even from people I had just met. I had so much potential, I was told. But, as I got older, and remained single, and not quite sure if I was on the right career path, the advice began to change. The implied message was to do something quickly because time was running out and I was being too picky. People would give me a worried look, and sometimes be bold enough to utter the rude phrase, “you’re not getting any younger.” At first, I would shrug it off and think they were just being melodramatic. But, as I turned 28, then 29, 30, my angst began to match theirs. I was in a relationship that was rocky at best, and in a job that was giving me a steady paycheck, but not much else. The external pressure to be on the path to marriage and career was mounting, and at times it felt like I was cradling a ticking bomb and those around me were freaking out about the precariousness of my situation. I began to panic.
What happened next was not pretty. I tried to make Mr. Wrong into Mr. Right, rather Mr. This Is The Best I Can Do. I accepted the dysfunction of our relationship by augmenting his good qualities while trying to fix his bad ones. Those were unhappy years. The harder I tried to make it work, the more I was spiraling down a dark tunnel of pain. In hindsight, I can see why I chose that relationship. I was afraid of being alone and remaining single for the rest of my life. Similarly, I continued at my job even though I wanted more growth opportunities. In that scenario, I feared failing and losing my independence.
Good friends helped me confront my fears. Once I did, I was able to see other options and make better choices. I had invested a lot of time into the wrong choices. Unfortunately, when we have invested so much of ourselves into something, it is difficult to walk away, I think partly because we don’t want to accept that we were wrong. It takes time to realize that we didn’t fail but learned an important life lesson that prepares us for better things. Fear makes us believe that there is nothing better for us in the future, which could not be farther from the truth. Only a couple of years after walking away from my failed relationship, I found love and married my husband. I also found a career that was thoroughly fulfilling, once I conquered my fear to leave that job.
Mounting external pressure to be on the “right path” can provoke fear and insecurity and drive us to make choices that are not ideal. Ideal does not mean that it is perfect or fits someone else’s standards; ideal means that it feels like it was custom-made for you. When you make the right choice it fits like a glove. The right choice makes you feel complete – whether it’s a career path, a relationship, or a graduate program. It just feels good.
If you are doubtful about the relationship you’re in, or a choice you have made, here are five signs that might indicate that you are settling:
- You feel fearful all the time. You want to be perfect and don’t want anything to upset the volatile equilibrium you work so hard to maintain with this choice. This fear may have motivated you to make this choice, and will continue to be a dynamic in your relationship.
- You find yourself making things sound better than they are. When you talk to friends about your choice, you exaggerate the good things and make it sound like this is the best thing that has ever happened to you.
- You feel it takes all of your energy and you don’t have the energy left for much else. Your friends may see you less, and you become absorbed in anticipating the next issue or problem. This is hard work.
- You don’t feel happy. Though you may pretend to be happy, deep down you feel heavy and stressed. This may be difficult to admit because you are spending so much energy on this choice that you want to believe it’s worth it. Yet, something deep down does not feel right.
- You are not yourself. You do things you thought you would never do. You might miss important family events because you are so consumed by the fear of losing what you are working so hard to maintain.
I pray that this is helpful to those who need to read it and can count on good friends to help you move forward.