I bet when you hear the word ‘settle’ something specific comes to mind.
Maybe it’s a memory of a teacher standing at the front of your class shouting at you all to ‘settle down’.
Perhaps it’s a word for the future; the inevitable time that will eventually come with the career, mortgage, 2.4 children etc.
Or maybe it’s that negotiation before that big decision was taken and you were forced to make those compromises.
Settling for Less than Ideal
The idea of settling is often used in a less than favourable way.
It can be seen as an act of giving up certain freedoms or allowing our true hopes and dreams to be reigned in by reality and compromise. And this is exactly what it is when we allow the weight of society’s expectations to dictate our desires rather than living within and pursuing our own hopes and dreams.
For example, the question ‘when are you going to settle down?’ is full of an underlying need to settle for less than what you want. Settling down conjures an image of a steady relationship, a secure job, choosing a location and buying property. In other words tying yourself to things.
But these are serious decisions and not to be made because you are being told you should.
Settling for a relationship simply because it’s convenient or in front of you, settling for the job that you hate just because you already have it, you can pay the mortgage and climb the career ladder.
We settle all the time. It can feel like we have to. When we’re told that the job market is tough and that if you have one then you’re extremely lucky. When we see all our friends getting married and there is pressure from members of the family for us to do the same.
It doesn’t matter what, it doesn’t who, it doesn’t matter where. Just do it. That is settling.
The Other Kind of Settle
But there is another side to settling, and one that really resonates with me.
For many of us it’s not only good to settle, it’s also absolutely vital to our personal growth and effectiveness.
The word ‘settle’ comes from the Old English: setlan, which means ‘to seat, or place’. As a noun settle is German for a type of wooden bench with a high back and arms, which would typically have a box beneath.
During my most effective, creative, and productive times of life I have been settled. For many of us we need to be settled in order to push ourselves to do the things we dream of doing. This will mean different things to each of us, for example for me I am at my best when I am settled in terms of my time, financial situation, and environment (I have a place I can control where I can do my work – studio/office).
If I’m stretched in these areas or having to work in an unfamiliar place I am ‘out of my comfort zone’ but completely ineffective. In other words, I’m unsettled.
To make ‘stepping out of your comfort zone’ worthwhile you need already to be somewhat settled and comfortable.
Most trees and plants won’t grow taller without first deepening their roots. They must settle into the soil before expanding upwards. Once they’re settled they can begin to grow taller than they ever have before.
When you’re settled the bigger picture is often clearer. It is easier to identify how to get to where you want to go. When we are unsettled we might just get our head down and live in a reactionary way to every request or unexpected bill that comes. When you are settled you are able to anticipate and therefore plan so that you don’t have to give those details a second thought and they don’t set you back.
3. The Right Reasons
When we’re settled we are more likely to do things with the right underlying motivations. Likewise when we’re unsettled we might allow bad motives to dictate our action. If someone is financially unsettled they may look for quick wins and pursue questionable opportunities, whereas if that immediate need is removed from the equation they are more likely to think about their decisions and actions in a longer-term context.
Being settled in the foundational areas of your life brings an opportunity to focus on what matters. When you’re settled you can concentrate your time, effort, and energy on those projects and people that truly mean the world to you. You’re not constantly thinking you should be somewhere, trying to create or fix something else.
5. Craft and Experience
One of the huge long-term benefits of being settled is the foundation it gives to growth through experience and craftsmanship. When you’re settled in a job you unconsciously get better at it simply by virtue of the fact that you do it day in and day out. You learn without realising and expand your knowledge and understanding of the craft.
This kind of platform can be utilised. When you’re settled, growing in experience and ability, you can consciously apply yourself to grow and extend to new levels.
6. Essential and Simple
When I’m settled my mind is settled. When my mind is settled it is a lot easier to distinguish between the important and the urgent activities. Settling breeds vision to see the world or task at hand through the lens of simplicity and essentialism. You can identify the true priority.
Being settled is also the foundation of healthy patience. It allows us to feel OK about now, to appreciate that good things take time, and that we are not desparate to change who, what, or where we are. This helps us to apply ourselves to what we want to do/change/transform a little bit at a time, step by step.
Join the Conversation:
I’d love to encourage you to think about ways in which you need to feel settled. It’s different for everyone. What aspects of life do you need settling before you are able to function at your best? (e.g. I mentioned mine are having a sense of financial stability, margin around my time, and a familiar place to do my work)