For most of my life, I was fairly certain that the worst thing that could happen to me was an average life. Settling. I would think about working an average job (even one that I enjoyed) and coming home to a normal house and it all sounded like stagnation. It was the worst thing I could imagine. Most millennials have been told that they could be the best, which often translates into the implication that you should be the best. For me, this was the conviction that unless there was something in this world that I accomplished that no one else could, I was not doing enough.
Perfectionism is a nasty curse. There is always more that you could be doing. If you’re dedicating your life to writing, you’re losing out on your ability to make music or research neuroscience or learn languages. Possibility is always a kind of pressure. One of the biggest problems of defining yourself by your achievements is that there are always more things to be achieved. You might reach one of your goals, but there are five more that you could complete today alone. “Average” tends to be defined by goals and accomplishments. You know someone is outstanding when you can point to their resume of accomplishments. Or so we’re taught to believe.
The problem with this model is that I know dozens of people who have done amazing things in their lives. All of them have found different ways to excel, and dedicated themselves to whatever their passion is. I hear news stories almost daily about people accomplishing things I could never hope to achieve. There’s no way to live up to all of these possibilities. What I don’t hear is stories of contentment. There are very few people in my life who seem to simply exist in the space that they’re in without any energy pushing them somewhere else, any driving need to be doing more or appearing better.
Contentment is not a competition. If all your friends are content with their lives, you don’t have to be more content in order to feel ok. In contrast, achievement and perfection are values that compare: the more your friends achieve, the more you have to achieve if you want your achievements to stand out.
So here’s a new goal: settling for happiness. Are you content with your job? Do you have a place to live and a regular income? Do you have people that you love? Do you get to see those people on a regular basis? Awesome. Settle for that. Relish it.
A few nights ago I got to see my friends for the first time in over a month. We didn’t do much. Ate some cookies, played Mario Kart, and just goofed around with each other. I laughed a lot. I smiled. I got hugged and teased and affirmed. It was hardly a mind-blowing experience, except that there was no anxiety, no worry, no desire to be anywhere but where I was.
Yesterday I went to the Renaissance Festival with some new friends and felt nothing but affection and excitement for who I was with. I was a little tired and didn’t have the money to spend on all the exciting things I saw, but again, there was no question in my mind that this was where I wanted to be and these were the people that I wanted to be with.
Tomorrow I’m starting a new job and I’m a little anxious, but I get to hang out with one of my best friends afterwards, and I know that no matter what happens or whether the job is a good fit or not, I get at least a few hours tomorrow of pure contentment. That’s more than some people can say in months. That’s amazing.
I’m not saving the world. I’m not making tons of money. I’m not living in the nicest house or recognized around the world as a world changing genius. But I like who I am and I like who I’m with. I will settle for that any day over saving the world, because I have saved my world. Somewhere along the way I hope to improve the lives of some people around me, but the best way to do that is by being happy and doing things I like to do. So I’m going to settle. I don’t necessarily need a high powered career or a book deal. I don’t necessarily need an excess of disposable income. I suppose if that’s settling, then I’m all for it, because I’d rather be happy than amazing.