Never Settle, Prioritize!

We live in a time when we believe anything is possible in our lives. You can have anything you want. Become anything you want. Your parents encouraged you to chase your dreams, reach for the stars and ‘never settle’. Never settle in your career, relationships, leisure, finance or any other part of your life. All great success stories can be attributed to the relentless pursuit of one’s dreams and the unwillingness to settle for mediocrity.

On the other hand, we weren’t trying to give you unrealistic expectations about your life, we were just trying to get you off the PlayStation long enough to do some homework. Candidly, we couldn’t tell if you were even listening.

While I get the motivational advantages of an inspirational catchphrase, I think there may be some unintended consequences of the expression ‘never settle’. It quite literally presumes anything is possible in your life. It implies the idea that settling is essentially saying that you’re throwing in the towel and giving up on what you truly want and sadly accepting what you have. You’re admitting that you’re willing to accept this disappointing outcome.

Choose What Matters Most In Life

Settling implies that it is possible and reasonable to have everything you ever wanted if you just work hard enough. You can chase and achieve your dreams and become all that destiny has in store for you. Fame and fortune are waiting for the select few that will never settle for anything less.

That does sound real nice, besides what kind of person gives up on their dreams? And if that doesn’t get you to do some homework, apparently it’s going to take more than words.

Modern Society, Ancient Philosophy And Noble Truths

Now that I’m an older man, I believe I have a broader perspective on life. It is so interesting how irrelevant younger men find older men. This isn’t a new thing. I suspect this has existed throughout human history. Boomers in their 20’s said stuff like ‘never trust anyone over 30’. That was not terribly forward-thinking as they gave themselves an expiration date on relevancy. Those guys are mostly in their 70’s and 80’s now. Most of their lives they have been the enemy by their own standards.

What would anyone from thousands of years ago know about modern life? Ancient wisdom knows little of modern life, but a surprising amount about human nature.

Buddhism teaches there will be suffering in life. No sugar coating, just suffering. Expect it, plan on it. Later Stoic philosophers essentially start with the premise that you and everyone you know and love will all soon enough be dead and forgotten. I wonder how they got their kids to do homework. Parenting may have evolved some over the years.

The ancients seem to focus on preparing their kids for hardship and suffering in life and specifically teach about suffering resulting from unmet expectations. If you believe you can have it all, what happens as you slowly discover that you can’t? What if you expect marriage to be like dating, but forever? We like the idea of capturing happiness.

Ambition Has No Limits, Life Does

Capturing happiness is not a thing. It’s not possible to have everything you want, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that all these things couldn’t possibly fit in your garage. I know, you could buy a bigger house with a bigger garage, but that has been tried far too many times with poor results. There is too much available for you to want. You can go to so many places, you can do so many things, and you can meet so many people. Our imaginations and our capacity to dream is truly without limits. And for those lacking imagination, you will get several thousand suggestions each day targeted directly at the specific things they know will tickle your fancy.

SAYS WHO? Unmet expectations lead to suffering

Limitless ambitions aside, is it reasonable to believe you can have it all? At some point, all the dreams we might have for ourselves are beyond the potential that one life can create. And that’s assuming you are a magnificent specimen of a human being (you’re not). While our imaginations may not have limits, our lives do. Our lives are limited by the resources with which we have to live them. Time, money and energy are limited in nature, so you will need to make choices that best use these resources. You can choose any of an unlimited number of directions in your life and create a very good life for yourself. But you can’t choose them all.

You GET to choose from among the countless options. You can’t have everything, so by design, you’re going to have to ‘settle’.

Choose What You Value and Prioritize That

Acknowledge you’re not going to have everything you ever imagined. I think this sounds disappointing to some and a relief to others. If you choose what matters most by prioritizing, you can have a spectacular life. Just to be alive today is kind of extraordinary. For most of human history, people have spent their entire lives trying to find enough food to stay alive. Mere survival was a daily challenge for our ancestors.

But what about us? We live a life with a fridge full of food, clean sheets, a soft pillow, Netflix, cell phones and immense comfort that would have been unimaginable even 100 years ago. Even those of us with modest means live a pretty incredible life compared to how most have ever lived. And if that’s not enough to impress you, I don’t think there’s going to be enough to impress you. And that’s in you. Your suffering may be a product of unrealistic expectations.

On the flip side, a normal life today can be pretty amazing—the ability to travel, to meet people, to have a comfortable place of your own, and find things to do that you enjoy. It’s true that you may not be living the lavish life you see others living online. While not as lavish as you might be able to imagine, a really great life is well within your reach.

One advantage of lowering the bar, is eliminating all the suffering from unmet expectations.

All you need to do is find things you enjoy and go enjoy them. There’s no point in creating some ambition of a life so unimaginable that they’re going to need to write books and make movies about you. Maybe an ordinary life in today’s world can be extraordinary with only reasonable sacrifice required. That’s pretty good. Maybe you should consider that and a simpler life.

Unmet Expectations Causes Suffering

Why do so many of us reach adulthood with some need to leave our mark on the world? Are you sure that was your idea, or is that part of some societal conditioning? Perhaps, this is our Matrix.

Do you fantasize about great success and wealth? A stunning wife and a beautiful family that adores you? A big house and a nice car? Do you daydream about the amazing life you are working towards? I’m willing to bet you are missing much of the amazing life you already have as you plan for the one you don’t have. It’s worth noting that once you have all those things, you will dream up new things to want. You’re doing it now. It’s part of our nature.

If unmet expectations is the source of suffering, what if you lowered the bar for yourself? What if you created your own little bubble and just lived a happy, fulfilling life for yourself? Maybe get married and start a family, find a few good friends with lots of niceness and fun for all. No fame, no fortune, no mark on the world. Just a nice, comfortable, happy life. Nothing beyond your reach, but based on what means the most to you.

Stop dreaming up so much to pursue and learn to appreciate the life you have. If you can’t enjoy all that you have, you will never be able to enjoy all that you might get. You will get stuck, like so many, focusing on what you don’t yet have, having never learned to enjoy what you do have.

Be selective about what you want from life.

A Magnificent Human Being Simply Does NOT Exist

What do you expect from a girlfriend or wife? What does she expect from you? It seems people feel like they want a magnificent human being as their partner. Well, you’re in for some disappointment. First, as remarkable as our species is, magnificence is hard to come by. Most people are far more ordinary than you would bother to dream up. And you’re no James Bond yourself. There is far too much romantic fantasy going on in our heads for reality to satisfy. So what happens when all the shiny parts fade? With divorce rates at 50%, your love life is pretty much a coin toss.

Desiring an amazing human being as a partner is unrealistic and unhealthy. I believe idealized expectations from a partner are the cause of great suffering in life. Does any of this sound familiar? We attach our happiness to the dream, the vision in our heads and when reality falls short, we are disappointed and suffer. You know what’s even worse than being disappointed in a partner? Feeling stuck with a partner who is clearly disappointed in you. Why did they settle?

How many times have you heard from aging single women how they are unwilling to settle? You do not want to be the man they eventually settle on. Yes, much suffering ahead. This is an important concept that we’ll need to explore further.

How Important Is Money To You?

Money is a construct of man. It’s a way to take value and store it someplace so that you can do something worthwhile with it later. What is the worthwhile thing you would have in mind if you had all that money? I think some people get really lost in generating wealth, figuring everything else will find its way.

Maybe that’s true. But you can’t get back the time you spend to create wealth. No amount of money can buy it back. Wealth isn’t the real goal, it is a tool to help you achieve your real goals.

How much of your life are you willing to give up to have more money?

Summary: Never Settle, Prioritize!

My solution to this is pretty simple. There are too many options in life and you will need to choose what matters most. This is prioritizing, not settling.

And when something doesn’t live up to your expectations, consider the very real possibility that your expectations are the problem. Your expectations are what makes your life less than you want. Notice this in others and how you feel about that quality in them. There is quite a lot of entitled behavior making its way to social media, are you sure you don’t have a little of that in you?

We don’t need to make life so hard. You can learn to expect less in life, and avoid a lot of suffering. Expect less? What if you don’t like the way that sounds? Well, don’t be surprised with the suffering that comes from unrealisitc expectations.

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