It’s not always a product of poor self-perception.
I think that too often, the concept of settling is dismissed as a mere byproduct of low self-esteem. This may be the case in some situations, perhaps even many, but certainly not even close to all. I know people who think very highly of themselves. I believe I have an elevated perception of myself. Yet, there are times when each of us has settled for less than we felt was deserved or desired. This is a universal challenge. We’ve all been faced with the dilemma of accepting inferior or undesirable options vs. waiting for something more ideal, and we don’t always choose the latter no matter how esteemed our self-image may be.
There are many different motivations for settling. Too many for it to be automatically reduced to the result of not loving ourselves enough. If I were to think back on every time I may have acquiesced against my own heart and better judgement, I can attribute doing so to one of several reasons.
Behavioral psychologists call the phenomenon that keeps us from fulfillment ‘habituation.’ Meaning that, given enough experience with circumstances through repeated exposures over time, all organisms — including humans — become accustomed to things as they are. We accept that this is just how life is and the extent of what is available to us. This is our relationship, these are our friends, this is our job, etc. Situations become absolutes and mainstays based on no other logic than this is how it’s always been.
The reason could be based in fear, which influences many of our decisions. We make the safe choice and place the sure bet — afraid to venture past our comfort zones and let go of certainties because we aren’t sure what else is out there for us. The unknown can be frightening. Yet, it can also be exhilarating. The idea that there exists an abundance of possibilities we have yet to explore should be encouraging.
We stay in unhealthy, unfulfilling relationships for fear that we may not find anyone else. When if we stop to think about it, someone new always comes along. Always. There may be a spell of loneliness and heartache to endure, but sooner or later we’ll meet someone and carry on with our lives. We’ll build another relationship, hopefully with lessons in tow that we learned from the last.
Sometimes we have to fail on purpose just to alleviate the fear of doing so. Because being afraid to fail is often behind our hesitance to really go for what we want. Whether it be career choices, pursuing an opportunity or approaching someone we’ve been interested in for a while, not making decisions from a place of courage and conviction keeps us from living the life we imagine. Putting ourselves on the line and pouring effort, time and hope into something only to be unsuccessful doesn’t feel good. It’s draining and disheartening. But sometimes we get that thing, we win. For that potential outcome we have to at least try.
I say rather than avoid rejection, let’s seek it out. Let’s attempt things we’re not sure we can do, take chances and deliberately decide against the road that we would normally travel, sometimes. No need to get reckless. Just fail, and see that even though it may hurt a bit, you didn’t die. You can pick yourself up to try again another day. Discover immense disappointment so that you can remove the ambiguity and stigma of falling short. Now, you may decide that you never want to feel that way again, but we’re less inclined to fear things we’ve already faced and conquered.
When we do go for things and are not successful, have a bunch of bad dates or negative experiences in love, it can shake our belief. This is another reason that we settle. We can have complete confidence that we are worthy of all that we seek, but the trust that it’s out there and will come to us wavers after futile attempts. In these moments it’s important that we not only believe we’re worth what we desire, but also the wait necessary to obtain it. We owe it to ourselves to endure the loneliness and whatever other struggles may come while bringing our vision to fruition.
It’s only easier said than done until we do it.
We just get tired sometimes. I know I do. We grow weary of fighting, failing, believing, trying and hoping. It becomes easier to settle for what we have when we can’t find the energy to continue pursuing something greater. Rest is essential to our mental and emotional health. We just can’t quit, which usually goes hand-in-hand with settling as we essentially throw in the towel on our journey. Instead, let’s take breaks. Do nothing, relax and recharge. Put the job search on hold if feasible. Take a dating hiatus rather than give in to fruitless relationships. Energy replenishes itself eventually. How disappointing it would be to regain strength after committing to a situation we’re certain we don’t want to be in.
The lesser talked about reason for our settling is a lack of self-preparation. We have to put ourselves in position to attain those things we say that we want, and be the type of person we wish to attract. We have to do the work, on ourselves and in our lives. This could involve learning more about a particular field, getting a degree, relocating, going to therapy or anything else that contributes to our becoming the best version of ourselves and brings us closer to our goals. We can’t cheat the process. Unfortunately, sometimes we end up settling because we’re expecting maximum results with minimal effort and leave ourselves little choice.
We often confuse settling with compromise. These two are not synonymous. Compromise is meeting in the middle on matters of minuscule impact. It’s one person wanting a white chair, the other wanting black and the two agreeing on gray. Settling, on the other hand, is resigning to situations and relationships that don’t even come close to what we envision for ourselves.
These are just a few of the additional culprits that come to mind when I consider factors that may push us toward settling, and serve to demonstrate that lacking adequate self-esteem is not always the issue. I think that idea can be counterproductive and actually allow the settling to damage our sense of self-worth, because we beat ourselves up believing that we acted from a place of low dignity. No matter the motive, I’ve come to understand the importance of figuring it out. I’ve learned that without question, we have to fight against giving fear, disbelief, fatigue or being ill-equipped the power to guide our paths if we hope to arrive someplace gratifying.