Is settle a four letter word?

You can settle an argument or a legal dispute. You can decide to settle down and get married and have a family. You can even settle into a nice groove at work or school. Use the word “settle” in any of these ways and you have yourself a positive situation. How about when Mary settles for Tom, even though she isn’t interested, because he is the only man interested in her … then that is bad. But, is that settling or giving up? One definition of settling that Miriam-Webster offers is, “to end (something, such as an argument) by reaching a settlement.” So why does that word get such a bum rap when it really just sounds like compromising?

Well, regardless of the technical definition, we don’t want to settle in life. Don’t settle for a relationship that makes you miserable, don’t settle for a job you hate, don’t settle for an apartment you can’t stand. What are they really saying here? Are they saying that you should never have to compromise on anything? No, they are saying don’t give up.

Perhaps you think your partner should be tall and slim, play tennis, have a graduate degree, have ambitions for career advancement, own his own home, and drive a sports car. For good measure you want him to be funny, kind, and romantic. Okay, that’s a long list. What if he meets most of the criteria, he is really kind, funny, and romantic, owns his own home, is climbing the corporate ladder, is tall and atheletic, but he only has a bachelor’s degree, prefers baseball, and drives a sedan, is that grounds for termination? If you give a little for a great person, is that really “settling” for something less than you deserve or is that making a compromise?

The best way to know the difference is to ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What do you really want? Figure out the details of your dream scenario. I should qualify this, your realistic dream scenario. You may really want to have your way with Brad Pitt on a purple cloud, but unless you’re Angelina Jolie on acid, let’s rule that out. It’s important to know what you truly want so you know what to work toward.
  2. What are you willing to live with? You know you want the Victorian two-story house with the wrap-around porch and white picket fence. You can perfectly describe your gourmet kitchen and deluxe master suite complete with sunken Jacuzzi tub and walk-in shower that doubles as a steam room. Would you be happy with just a giant tub? Could you still love your kitchen with a single oven? Knowing specifically how you can trim your dream without cutting into your happiness is important as you move toward compromise.
  3. What are your deal breakers? Do you absolutely refuse to work for a company that doesn’t offer a 401k? Can you simply not stomach working for a boss who demands you be available to him or her even after regular hours? It’s critical that you know your breaking point. These are the things that will make you miserable.

Understanding all three of these limits is really giving you a better understanding of yourself. Knowing where these boundaries will help ensure that you can compromise where necessary but never cross that line into settling.



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