In our world, one of the most pervasive attitudes toward lifestyle is that the absolute worst thing you can ever do is to settle for less than you deserve. Now, more than ever before, we are told that the world is our oyster. We can see through mainstream and social media how many opportunities are out there, and we are determined to excel at life. In 2018 it is absolutely unheard of to have an ordinary life. Only an extraordinary life is sufficient.
When choosing a partner, we won’t settle for anything less than true love (whatever that means). Relationships are not meant to be hard work. Partners are not supposed to have issues, or baggage, or complicated histories. Friends and family members should be easy to get along with, and should never do anything that might make us feel down. Everyone around us needs to live up to a certain set of standards. The moment they put one toe out of line, they fail the test and are immediately kicked to the curb. For, if we were to have to put in effort to try to fix an imperfect relationship, that would be seen as ‘settling’.
In the workforce, the idea that one can be happy with a position that is on the lower end of the company hierarchy is positively unheard of. If you are not striving for a higher position, higher pay, more power, and more responsibility then you are not setting your sights high enough.
When we live in a world full of unrealistic standards, we attach these to our sense of happiness and achievement. Anything less than perfection is settling for a lesser life.
Being happy with what you have
On the other hand, we constantly hear that we should feel happiness now. Buddhism, mindfulness, self-help gurus and half of the bloggers on WordPress will tell you that it is extremely important to feel grateful for, and at peace with, the life you have. Practicing to appreciate who you are without trying to change yourself is a key step toward happiness.
Similarly, if we can appreciate our partners and friends for who they are as people, then we can let go of some of the unfair expectations we have of them. We strive to let go of preconceived notions of what a relationship should be and try to be happy that we have relationships at all.
If our friends don’t offer to pick us up from the airport, we don’t resent them. We understand their limitations and respect their boundaries. If our partner is not interested in taking a yoga class with us, we don’t force them and instead feel grateful for the time we can spend together doing a different activity.
Most importantly, we try to care for our bodies and show ourselves love by treating both our bodies and minds with attention and empathy. We practice self-love and patience, and do not try to change ourselves.
Trying to strike a balance
The question is, can you still feel at peace with who you are and appreciate what you have while striving for an extraordinary life? Are these two paths parallel or divergent?
Sure, we can enjoy our job while still trying to climb the corporate ladder, but can we be completely content with our tasks and salary and still have enough ambition to strive for more? Do we put ourselves out of the running if we are too at peace with our current standing? Will we be outplayed by competitors whose discontent fuels their upward trajectory?
To me, trying to feeling happy with what you have is paradoxical. If I were truly happy with exactly the way my life was, would I have enough ambition to follow my dreams? Is a small amount of dissatisfaction required in order to keep the fire of motivation burning? Or, am I simply not yet able to see the connection between happiness and ambition because I am lacking both?
Whatever the case, the struggle to find a healthy balance between ambition to ‘not settle’ for a less than extraordinary life and the desire to feel inner peace can be overwhelming. My only solution thus far is to take both with a grain of salt, and not to aim for perfection at either, in the hope that success and happiness will find their equilibrium naturally.