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“Well…this is what I have to work with,” I’d think, followed by a heavy sigh. Money, friends, jobs, time–not enough, it doesn’t feel quite right, but…this is what I have to work with. Whaddyagonnado? This is…it. Another heavy sigh.

Life had a lot heavy sighs, delivered daily.

Now, from a purely pragmatic perspective, we need to find ways to work with what we’ve got, and still be happy, because life does dish up some dozers and losers. Our grandparents are on to something when they shake their heads at us crazy kids (!), endlessly unsatisfied with our hungry ghosts and search for meaning. Keeping yourself from being happy until all of the pieces are perfectly in place is just perfectionism.

But there’s a difference between deciding, “I’m going to work with what I’ve got” and…settling.

How do you know the difference?

First: “I’m going to work with what I’ve got” and “Well, this is what I have to work with” carry completely different energies. The former reflects a choice, the latter a heavy sigh and throwing up one’s hands in futility.

Second: Settling carries with it the implicit assumption that better options don’t exist, and you can’t create them. It’s a scarcity mindset of epic proportions, and when it infuses your life, you start seeing everything through dull, settling-tinted glasses.

Why We Settle

We settle because we’re afraid. When you’re settling, you’re afraid of being left with nothing. Faced with the possibility of having nothing, the voice in your head goes: Maybe I’m just being overly sensitive. Maybe this isn’t a big deal. I can figure this out. I’ll try harder. I could be wrong, I could be missing something. Maybe if I rework this in my head, I’ll find another option.

We’d rather stay with what we know and convince ourselves that we must have it all wrong, than step out and take a massive risk–the risk of doing everything, differently.

I’ve done this with jobs I hated, friendships that weren’t working, and assuming that the numbers in my bank account couldn’t go any higher than Just Getting By.

I can’t quit the job–what if I’m left with nothing?
I can’t quit that friendship–what if I’m left with nothing?
I can’t take that financial risk–what if I’m left with nothing?

Clearing Space

Being “left with nothing” creates a temporary empty space. You leave that relationship? Empty house at night; no one to call if the shit hits the fan. You leave that job? Empty bank account. You stop doing things according to habit and routine? Well, then, what would you fill the hours with?

We’re afraid to clear that empty space because we don’t know what is on the other side of that wide expanse.

Most of us use pain as a motivator. We put up with the stuff that sucks, until it gets bad enough to reach a breaking point, at which time the empty space seems like a respite. When the relationship sucks enough, an empty house feels like a respite from being on the Crazy Train with your paramour. When the job sucks enough, you’ll quit and live off of a severely reduced budget or credit cards if you have to, and the interest will feel worth it until you find something that is your true calling.

The most successful people, however? They’re the people who are willing to step out into that wide expanse, and they don’t wait for things to get intolerable before they do. Yes, they’re afraid–we’re not talking that bullshit fearless stuff–but they know that settling is a self-imposed punishment.

They also understand something else: no one gets to circumvent the growing pains of change. The thing is, the people who wait until life gets intolerable before they take a risk aren’t coming out ahead.

Waiting until the shit hits the fan before you’ll take action is like putting yourself in front of a firing squad before you’ll decide to really, value your life. You have a lot less time.

Stop Settling

You don’t have the time that you think you do. None of us do.

Every day, someone is waking up to a life that they regard as totally ordinary–leaving pajamas on the floor, grabbing a cup of coffee, heading out the door–and not all of them are coming home. And chances are good that not many of them are thinking, “If I knew today was my last day, I’d pay a helluva lot more attention.”

I’m going to hazard a guess that you woke up this morning without that thought crossing your mind, either.

The awareness of our limited time can cause us to shrink in fear, or cause us to expand with courage.

When you expand with courage, you step into creation: you create the escape plan, you create the new blueprint for where you’re headed next, you make the amends, you stop telling yourself that what you want isn’t possible.

You’ll still be scared shitless. Absolutely. But life will feel radiant, awake, and full of possibility.