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Julia Walton on the temptation to settle

Julia Walton on the temptation to settle

Most people think that settling is something you do in a relationship. I mean you can. People definitely find ways of convincing themselves they are happy with the people they’re with rather than continuing the search for a better match.

But I don’t mean settling in terms of a romantic relationship.

I mean settling with yourself.

Settling for the person you are and the things you’re doing when you know you’d be happier if you reached for something else.

I understand the temptation to settle and do what’s safe because the alternative is scary. What if I don’t make it? What if I look ridiculous? What if it isn’t everything I need it to be?

But… what if it is?

What if settling is actually more dangerous? Bad stuff might happen if you try, but nothing will change if you don’t.

I’m sure you remember the posters on your classroom walls. The cute kitten holding on to a tree branch imploring you to Hang in There. The School House Rock kids encouraging you to keep trying when math sucked (or learn the subject and the predicate of a sentence, whatever). The Mary Oliver quote: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Your response would not be: Nothing Mary. I am going to sit here in my cubicle, collect a paycheck, and get the free cake in the breakroom from Barbara’s retirement party.

The thing is, telling a kid to shoot for the stars is easy. Telling them they can do anything is easy. It’s a nice thing to say that makes you feel good, but it doesn’t offer anything beyond that because the minute a kid grows up and realizes they are responsible for their own life, they look at their dreams differently. They wonder if the dreams they clung to are worth anything because the path forward is difficult.

Now, I’m not here to tell anyone to quit their day job immediately.

(Please do NOT do that. You still have to eat and pay for stuff.)

But I will warn you about being complacent and about letting your fear dictate how much you are willing to sacrifice.

Settling is addictive.

It teaches you to hold back and find comfort in what you didn’t want, but was easier to grab. It is a belief that the things you want and the person you’re trying to become are not worth it.

So no, don’t quit your job.

Plan your escape.

Figure out what you love and chase it until you catch it. Or at least get close.

I settled for a job that didn’t suit me for a long time because I was afraid to take a risk. It hurt too much to reach for something that I thought I could never have, until I realized the alternative was becoming someone I didn’t know. Someone I didn’t even like.

That’s when I decided I couldn’t settle for that version of myself.

My latest book, On the Subject of Unmentionable Things, is about a girl in a conservative town who writes a thoroughly-researched sex blog despite the fact that it is not exactly what is expected of her. It’s funny and awkward and sincere… and it was the book I absolutely needed as a teenager, and one that I would have been afraid to write if I’d stayed on the safe, predictable path I was on. If I’d settled.

Sometimes it is comfortable to plant your feet in a familiar place for a while because it feels safe, but don’t stay there forever.

Look at the person you want to be and the life you want to lead.

And don’t settle for less.

Julia Walton is the author of Words on Bathroom Walls (now a major motion picture on Amazon Prime), Just Our Luck and On the Subject of Unmentionable Things (Out Now!). She has taught creative writing workshops at the Orange County School of Performing Arts and now lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her family.

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