Are you the sort of person who is always looking for the next challenge? Whether an exam, a sport competition, a promotion at work or a bigger house? Do we live in a culture of constant dissatisfaction where as soon as we’ve achieved something great, the feeling quickly passes and is over taken by a craving for that next big thing?
I’m turning 30, I’ve got a steady job with an okay income, a great boyfriend, wonderful friends, a mortgage which still leaves money for holidays… so why aren’t I satisfied? Why is there a yearning for the next stretch, the next challenge, (dare I say it), the stress?
To many of us, “settling” is a dispiriting concept that implies giving up and making do with second-best.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options open to you when you feel the need for that stretch? Do I move to a bigger house – buy a car – live in the country with four double bedrooms, or do I move to a bigger job – more pay – more hours, do I have a family – moving our relationship to the next level - changing my life completely?
“Don’t take the easy way out” is a message we are constantly being told. “Work hard, play hard”. Does that mean it’s wrong to take the easy road – are we caving? Is it wrong to be anxious about the stretch, the unknown, the challenge – is it this I should be craving?
To many of us, “settling” is a dispiriting concept that implies giving up and making do with second-best. However, in his book “On Settling”, Robert Goodin defines it as a crucial counterweight to the relentlessness of our culture. In a world where we don’t stop, where we’re constantly looking for the next shiny thing. Settling, to Goodin, is a state of resolution and constancy; the conditions for trust and stability to flourish. If we don’t settle, we are set for a life full of potential but empty of everything else.
Thought to ponder: by “settling” - deciding to give up seeking the optimal outcome in that area, at least for now, actually frees us to focus. That focus may be contemplation, putting one’s mind at rest or, as Nancy Kline suggests, simply having “time to think”. “A major virtue of settling is that it provides people with fixed points, enabling them to organise their lives” says Goodin.
In that sense, settling is a precondition for striving. It might help you plan, make a decision, and be more confident. Why? Because you choose to settle. By committing to certain projects, principles and values we are defining who we are. It provides a clear, general background against which people can live their lives.
Recently I ran the half marathon. A friend came to support and, when I saw her after the race, she shared how she’d become emotional thinking about her dad. “He ran his first half marathon at the age of 68,” she shared, “I was waiting at the finish line for him and as the minutes and hours passed I became increasingly worried he’d hurt himself”. Setting off down the finish line, she started looking for her dad, worried for his safety. Two miles away from the finish, and three hours since he’d set off, she found him steadily jogging towards her. “Dad!” she exhaled, putting her arms around him, “where have you been? I was so worried”. Her father shared how a younger man at the start line had been nervous about the race so her father agreed to go slower and run with him; coaching him along the way. Twice the man stopped and twice her father stopped with him, encouraging him to carry on. The third time the man stopped, he couldn’t get back up. Paramedics helped him to the ambulance and he was taken to hospital. Her dad stayed with him until the blue sirens left. He then carried on running, despite the two-hour delay in his race time. “Listen my love, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”. Retelling this story to me on that cold, autumnal morning, my friend was brought to tears and I joined her.
By consciously deciding to settle on things, we are declaring who we are – job, “I am an accountant” – parent, “I am a mother” – home, “I am a Yorkshireman”. Knowing who we are is a self-fulfilment need that reaches the top of Maslow’s pyramid. By setting these milestones in our lives, we are free to focus on what makes us thrive. For some, like my friends’ dad, it might be just living moment to moment, feeling and experiencing the journey of life. It is no surprise to me that in this millennial culture of instant gratification (fuelled mainly by technology), we feel so empty inside. I invite you to join me in taking a leaf out of my friend’s dad’s book.
Settle on things.
Allow them to define who you are.
Then open your eyes, look around you and embrace the journey.