I am convinced that one of the main reasons for people’s general unhappiness and dissatisfaction with their lives is the fact that they often settle for things as is, believing that that’s “just life” and they need to accept it.

For example, on a recent visit with one of my cousins, he told me all about his job stress. He is overworked, underpaid, and is generally very miserable every day of work. He’s been there 25 years or so. (“Maybe this is why he has aged so much since the last time I saw him,” I thought to myself.)

When I suggested he look for another job, he said, “Oh no, I’ve decided I’m going to stay until I retire.” This means he has already committed the next 20 years to these conditions. I was stunned. 

In my counseling office, I regularly hear about problems between people in relationships. I have witnessed countless couples tolerate violence, infidelity, addiction, deception, emotional cruelty, and serious neglect. 

On the one hand, I appreciate the effort to work through these issues and see if the situation can be healed and changed. I applaud couples who work together to resolve their difficulties and remain committed to their relationship.

On the other hand, what I usually see is one person constantly tolerating the other person’s unacceptable behavior, suffering in the relationship, miserable, but too scared, insecure or trapped in the situation to see any other possible way to live. 

How do we explain people’s tendency to settle for less than they deserve? 

Iyanla Vanzant, author of Peace from Broken Pieces says, “When we believe we cannot have what we desire, when we lack faith in ourselves and in the goodness of life, we settle for less. We decide that whatever is in front of us is better than nothing.”

The trickle effect of this can be devastating. An estimated 40 million Americans are depressed. Stress is considered a major factor in several serious physical conditions, such as heart attacks, strokes, migraines and obesity. 

Believing that we have to settle for far less than what we really want in all aspects of our lives creates a mentality of mediocrity and keeps our expectations very low which in turn prevents us from striving for more or doing our best.

Then everybody is compromised. Entire schools, businesses, and communities can adopt standards that do not challenge people to be their best selves.

How do we know if we are settling? 

Vanzant offers these considerations: “When you have to work yourself into a state of excitement rather than naturally experiencing joy and passion, you’re probably settling. 

When you bargain with yourself about what you can do without, when your focus is on the time and energy you’ve invested in an endeavor rather than what you’ve gained, when you’re making excuses about why you should stay put rather than going for what you truly want, you’re probably settling.

When you spend more time complaining about what you have than appreciating it, you’re definitely settling.” 

Sylvester Stallone understood the concept of settling and refused to participate. When he wrote the first Rocky movie, he had many offers to have it made into a movie, but with each offer, other established actors were going to be considered for the leading role. 

Stallone turned down several producers, because he also wanted to play the lead. He could have settled for making lots of money just as the screenplay writer. Instead, he went for everything he wanted despite his lack of notoriety and money at the time.

His efforts paid off as he went on to make $225 million dollars and won Oscars just for the first movie alone. Eventually, the franchise he created and starred in grossed over $2 billion dollars worldwide. 

If you are unhappy, please look over your life carefully, how you spend your time, and who you spend your time with. Honestly examine what works and doesn’t. You don’t have to suffer if you don’t want to. 

You are in charge of yourself. You and everyone around you will be better off if you choose not to settle for less than you deserve.

© - Cindy D. Whitmer (June 28, 2014)