“Don’t Settle For Less” Is Sometimes Plain WRONG Advice!

You’ve probably come across sayings similar to “never settle for less than you deserve” lately.

These have been swishing around for a while now, but they’ve become particularly prevalent in recent years.

But what does that phrase mean, exactly? And furthermore, why would one person “deserve” something simply by virtue of existing?

Let’s say someone is inundated with the idea that they somehow “deserve” wealth, fame, and a stereotypically beautiful partner. Furthermore, they might believe that if they don’t get those things, then they’re settling for something less than ideal or perfect.

The question here is “why?”

Why do they “deserve” these things? And why are those things important in the grand scheme of their existence?

Have they worked hard for years to earn the house of their dreams? And is a relationship with an extremely physically attractive person somehow more fulfilling than one who is average?

Let’s break down these ideas and determine why “settling” is far from the horrific outcome that so many people assume it to be.

Are you striving for your idea of perfect happiness, or someone else’s expectations?

You’ve likely done one of those multiple-choice quizzes before in which you get to choose which of a few different options you like best. For example:

Do you prefer living in a city, a forest, the mountains, or by the sea?
Would you rather have a cottage, a townhouse, a manor, or a castle?

You get the idea.

When tallying up the results from these types of quizzes, the person running them will see a wide variety of answers. This is because everyone has their own ideas about what would make them happy. In most cases, people who keep striving for bigger and better things like cars, houses, and the like are doing so to make other people happy, rather than to fulfill their own humble preferences.

Imagine there’s a person whose absolute dream is to own a little cottage in a sleepy village. They might daydream about the gardens they’ll tend and the animals they’ll raise, and the mental happy place they retreat to likely includes napping by the merry light of a toasty, hobbity hearth.

If and when they find a home that they like, others might try to naysay them out of it. Why on earth would they want a shabby little shoebox like that when they could own a much bigger property? They’d only need to work another decade or so to save up enough money and that’s totally worth it to get the big, shiny house they deserve! To do otherwise would be “settling” instead of striving, and that deserves scorn and judgement, rather than support, right?

No. No it doesn’t.

A mountain doesn’t have more value than a pebble. They’re merely different sizes, and make different people happy in different ways.

Perceptions of perfection change over time.

Think about what you considered to be perfect when you were 15 years old. Compared that to now. What you thought would be an ideal body type, relationship, career path, or living situation then might be a complete horror show to you now.

Here’s a personal example: in my mid-20s, I was living in a major city, working as a music journalist and PR rep. I had a loft in a sketchy part of town, spent most nights out interviewing bands, and pretty much lived in high heels. If anyone had told me that a couple of decades later, I’d be living happily in a cabin in the mountains, living in Wellies, and owning not one, but TWO wheelbarrows, I’d have laughed myself hoarse.

And yet, that’s the case. Furthermore, I would have never known the contentment I have now if I hadn’t taken a massive risk and spent some time doing the complete opposite to what I considered to be “perfect” at the time. Overnight, my ideals and goals shifted from jetsetting to different countries and spending thousands on shoes to growing heirloom tomatoes and brewing up herbal medicines.

Quite simply, one may not recognize what one actually considers to be ideal until they try living it.

The person I was then would have despised the life that makes me happy now, and vice versa. I was living what I thought was my “perfect” life – one I thought I wanted and deserved – and had no idea that I actually wanted something completely different on a soul-deep level.

Point being that when one is constantly striving for a preconceived notion of perfection, they’re often blinkered to far more beautiful and fulfilling options that may be all around them.

On that same note, finding oneself in a situation that seems less-than-ideal can also be a massive opportunity for all-around transformation. Kind of like how a couple of friends turned a 1/10 acre urban backyard lot into a vibrant Eden that produces enough food plants to feed their families, and their neighborhood.

Sometimes, trying out something that’s the polar opposite of what you’d assumed was perfection can open your eyes – and your heart – to an ideal that you may not have expected.

“Settle” isn’t a bad word. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

This expands upon the previous section with regard to everyone’s individual ideas of perfection.

When most people hear the word “settle,” they assume it has a negative connotation. For example, someone who’s speaking enthusiastically about something they love might be admonished to “settle down.” Similarly, someone who may be happy with simple pleasures may be reprimanded for “settling” for less than what they’re capable of attaining.

When one is “settled,” one is satisfied, tranquil, and content. This is why people settle down in a comfortable chair to read for the night, or settle into a routine that makes them feel secure and accomplished.

There’s a lot to be said for the peace and contentment that settling can bring.

To “settle” also means to both accept and celebrate something that is good enough for one’s needs and wants. This might mean enjoying the simple pleasures and peace that a quiet life can offer rather than jetsetting on wild adventures. Or it could mean developing body confidence and acceptance instead of constantly fighting against one’s own natural shape.

Quite often, “good enough” is much more comfortable and attainable than an unrealistic ideal. Furthermore, it might actually do someone a world of good to make do and settle than potentially damage themselves (or those around them) by constantly striving for more.

If you’re aiming to bench press 400 pounds and your body tells you that 350 is about all it can take, then there’s nothing wrong with stopping there. That’s still a great achievement, and is absolutely good enough. Same goes for if you’re writing a novel: writing 8,000 words a day instead of 10,000 is still pretty monumental and will likely save you from getting carpal tunnel syndrome in the long run. Remember to stretch!

Also, remember that it’s human nature to constantly fixate on and grasp towards the Next Big Thing, rather than appreciating what is, in this moment.

More often than not, the person who’s ever-striving will think: “Once I get THIS item or attain THAT goal, I’ll be happy,” but then when they aren’t, they’ll fixate on the next far-off goal instead.

This is because contentment comes from acceptance and appreciation of what is, not clutching at something that’s fleeting.

Don’t confuse acceptance and compromise with “settling.”

One major trend people have seen over the past couple of decades is the tendency to drop and walk away from anything that’s currently either uncomfortable, or not exactly what they dreamt of.

While it’s important to recognize when one is being abused or unappreciated (and to take steps accordingly to extricate themselves from those situations), it’s a different thing entirely to expect all your life experiences to be perfect all the time.

Life will inevitably require us to push through challenging circumstances now and then. That doesn’t mean that the circumstances are bad, or that we’re “settling for less” by sticking with them rather than abandoning ship. In fact, sticking with what you’re doing while enduring rough patches shows immense strength of character, as well as responsibility.

For example, let’s say that you’re in a job that doesn’t challenge you, or that you find boring. You may feel like you’re “settling” by staying with it rather than abandoning ship and starting your dream Etsy shop selling macrame plant holders or hand-carved medieval wooden bowls/utensils. But you’re bringing in a steady paycheck, which means that your rent (or mortgage) is being paid, so you have a place to live, and you’re feeding your family.

Ditching your responsibilities to them for the sake of dropping everything to follow your bliss would have devastating repercussions.

For one, there’s no guarantee that your business would flourish immediately, bringing in the same amount of money that you made at your steady-yet-unfulfilling job. Then there’s the fact that other life forms are literally depending on you for their continued existence.

If you absolutely hate your job, then instead of throwing your family to the wolves and doing what you want, you can work with the people you love so they can help you get there.

Let your partner know how you’re feeling and figure out how you can shift from your current work to the pursuits you want to follow. Maybe you can arrange something with your workplace that you put in four days instead of five, and that one day to yourself is spent doing woodcraft and tending your online shop. Meanwhile, maybe your partner can also do something to bring in more money while you’re making this transition.

You can also adapt your budget to make up for lost revenue while you’re building your business.

When you take reasonable actions like this, you’re taking steps to move forward and away from something that you dislike, while also honoring your loved ones and your responsibilities towards them.

Relationships ebb and flow, and require patience and tending – not abandonment.

It’s insincere and superficial to only want “fair weather” relationships. Life will often be messy and challenging, and we need to be able to lean on those we love for support during tough times.

That goes both ways: those we love need to also know that we’ll be there for them when the going gets tough, rather than dropping them when they’re at their lowest.

For example, let’s say your spouse or long-term partner suddenly has to deal with a severe illness or injury, and ends up being quite depressed about what they’re going through. They might not be as affectionate or attentive towards you as they were before, as they’re readjusting to the new parameters of their life.

In a situation like this, would you stand by them and help them through the difficulty they’re dealing with? Or would you say “I deserve better!” and abandon them in their darkest hour?

Does the “never settle!” mantra associated with radical self-love involve dismissing life’s natural struggles, and abandoning compassion and patience in favor of more selfish pursuits? Or does your idea of real love mean accepting the rough times along with the good, and remaining loyal and loving through whatever hardships may arise?

Existence is never going to be an easy road without any ups and downs. In fact, it’s more than likely that the average person’s life will be fairly calm – even tedious at times – with more struggles than high points. What is the point of building a relationship with someone if one (or both) of you will bail when things inevitably get rough?

Relationships transform from “pretty good” to ideal when you go through difficulty with another person. In fact, it’s through these types of life challenges that you have the opportunity to step up for one another, support one another, even fight for one another.

My partner and I have been through some incredibly challenging situations together, and love each other all the more because of it.

It’s in times of difficulty that we get to know another’s true colors. This is where you’ll discover whether the person who claims to love you will stand by your side and walk through hell with you, or flee for greener pastures at the first wave of heat.

If you happen to be with someone who’s talking about only wanting the good parts of a relationship, and who wants to break up to be with someone “better,” or who won’t make them go through anything difficult, then let them go. You’re likely dodging a bullet there since you’ll never be able to count on this person: they’ll just pick up and run any time life inevitably gets tough.

Speaking of relationships…

Real love means accepting a person as the amazing miracle of creation that they are.

Imagine person A meets a person and falls head over heels for them (we’ll refer to them as person “B”). They click like they were meant for one another, and are absolutely blissful together. They do all those silly little romantic things that you might roll your eyes at in films, but they also care about and respect one another.

Maybe they travel or go through some hard times together and realize that they’re the loves of each other’s lives. At this point, they might want to meet each other’s families or extended social circle – either just to get to know everyone better, or because they’re planning a wedding or other union to celebrate their love.

Only, when they meet each other’s circles, they get hit with criticism instead of support. They might hear things like:

  • “You’re at least an 8 or 9, so why are you settling for a 3?”
  • “Do you really want to have kids with someone who looks like that?”
  • “From the way you described X, I expected someone who wasn’t so (derogatory comment).”
  • “You can do way better than them. Ditch them and let me introduce you to someone you actually deserve.”

This type of scenario happens more often than you’d think and is entirely based on superficial attributes.

Many people are so focused on people’s (temporary) physical attributes that it doesn’t even occur to them to get to know them on a deeper level. That person they’re ignoring because they aren’t “good enough” in their eyes might be the most brilliant, funny, amazing person they’ll ever meet, but because they don’t look a certain way, they’re considered to be less than what is “deserved.”

What would you rather have? A lifelong storybook romance with the love of your life? Or a hollow masquerade with someone who looks like an underwear model for five minutes?

Have gratitude for what you have, as it could disappear in an instant.

You might be beating yourself up for having soft thighs or weak arms, determined that you’ll only be happy when you’ve attained a measure of aesthetic perfection in those limbs. And then you get into a car accident on the way home from Starbucks and lose one (or more) of said limbs, either through paralysis or amputation.

All of a sudden you’ll find that your priorities have changed exponentially. You might not give a damn about what your legs look like as long as you’ll be able to walk or hold your children again.

The same goes for material possessions. You might dislike your home because the carpet is shabby, you don’t like the wallpaper, there isn’t enough closet space, and the yard is too small. Then some catastrophe happens and you’re stuck in a cold, leaky shelter and you’d give anything to be back in the home you thought you despised.

Try to keep in mind that nothing will ever be “perfect.” There will always be a fly in the soup, and what you think is perfect or ideal will inevitably be marred or fleeting.

Try to cultivate gratitude for what you have here and now, as you’d undoubtedly miss it terribly if it were to be gone tomorrow.

Then you wouldn’t be thinking that you’d settled: you’d just want it back.

“Perfection” is fleeting.

Nothing in the universe ever remains constant. Mountain ranges that have stood for a million years erode with every rainfall. Similarly, celebrities who were at their peak physical attractiveness 20 years ago might be able to keep their appearance perky for a while through plastic surgery, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to live forever.

Some people feel that they need to keep striving to maintain a “perfect” body, regardless of how much they can damage themselves in that process. Sure, your joints can likely handle a fair bit of physical punishment in your 20s, but those same efforts can cause a fair amount of damage in your 40s or 60s. Let’s not even get started on how one’s digestive system, metabolism, and endocrine function can be damaged by eating disorders or perpetual dieting.

Furthermore, what are your motivations in attaining (and maintaining) this “perfection”? So that random strangers you pass on the street will find you suitably shaggable? Or to emulate the massively photoshopped famous people you see on your social media feeds?

It’s one thing to maintain a measure of strength and flexibility for the sake of health and mobility, and another thing entirely to drive yourself mad maintaining a size 4 figure until the day you die.

We live in a world where type A, extraverted, alpha personalities are considered to be better or somehow more worthy than others. In contrast, those who prefer quiet simplicity are often mocked by those who prefer adventure and grandiose achievements.

This contrast in desires is one of the root sources of the “don’t settle for less” mantra.

Be content. Enjoy the sweet, simple joys that our little lives can offer us. Appreciate what you have, and don’t put any additional pressure on yourself to have more, do more, be more.

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About Author

Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.