Are You Settling?

Bleachers are a pain in my rear, and not just because they are uncomfortable. Bleachers are a pain for me because they entail climbing. Often, especially in smaller and older venues, bleachers have no railings and steep steps. You almost have to be a mountain goat to climb some of the bleachers I've seen.

Because of that, I'm typically relegated to the bottom rows, where I sit among the senior citizens and struggle to see the action at ground level, as spectators swarm past me on their way to their seats or the concession stand. Recently, at one of my son's wrestling meets, another parent sat with me just briefly before he asked, "How can you stand it down here?" We clearly had one of the worst vantage points in the entire gymnasium.

Over the years, I've conditioned myself not to expect things that are beyond my reach - like the view from the upper rows of the bleachers. We all do this.

We might want to drive an expensive new car, but we realize that the old clunker gets us around just fine, and more importantly, is within our budget. We complain about the weather and threaten to move, but never do, because where we live is about more than just the weather. We would love to find the ideal house of worship, but accept what is convenient enough for regular attendance.

Life is full of these sorts of compromises. Without them, happiness would be elusive, and we would be overwhelmed with frustration and envy. The key is finding the right level of compromise in the right areas of our lives at the right time.

My first job after college was teaching at a Catholic school. The job was great and fulfilling, but the compensation was not. My meager salary kept me from buying the kind of vehicle I dreamt of buying when I became a professional, and I was forced to live in a dilapidated house that wasn't nearly as nice as the apartment I lived in while in college. Those financial sacrifices were prudent, and though I realized that the job would never provide the kind of lifestyle to which I aspired, I began to settle and ignore my goals. Only when the lady who would become my wife came along did I suddenly remember what I wanted and how I planned to get there.

Just as an athlete conditions himself to higher levels of performance, we can condition ourselves to lower levels of performance. We realize that we can get away with mediocre or below performance at our jobs, and that makes it easier to get through the day at a job we really don't like anyway. Before long, the only thing motivating us is a paycheck that we really didn't earn, but will gladly accept. If we're lucky, that paycheck is sufficient for us to maintain a comfortable, but not extravagant lifestyle.

Early on, we might experience that nagging sense of personal dissatisfaction, but as time passes, we learn to suppress that and settle for far less than our capabilities. We forget about the world we once aspired to, and instead accept the world that is attainable with minimal effort. That's where I was with my teaching job.

Ted Williams took that to the extreme. Williams, now the voice-over artist for Kraft Foods and others, was a homeless drug addict just two years ago. Gifted with a smooth, natural voice for radio, Williams had a successful career as a radio personality in Columbus, Ohio, before falling victim to drug and alcohol abuse, an affliction that turned him into a homeless criminal for the next 25 years, before he was discovered by a Columbus Dispatch reporter. Thanks to the power of the Internet, the reporter's interview with the then homeless man quickly spread, as fascinated people forwarded it through their networks nationwide.

After interviews on nationally syndicated morning television programs validated his story, Williams began receiving job offers including a full-time job with Cleveland Cavaliers NBA team. Unfortunately, he wasn't immediately able to kick his old habits, and he soon found himself in rehab twice.

He had conditioned himself to expect very little from himself, and it was difficult for him to cope with the increased expectations. Instead of accepting and embracing heightened expectations, he slipped back into a life of comfortable under-achievement, even though that plunged him into the hell that is addiction. That's how powerful the temptation to settle is.

Currently, Williams is living sober and supporting himself as a voice-over artist. As with all addicts, his recovery is still tenuous. The temptation to accept less will always be there, as it is with all of us.

Are you accepting less from yourself than your potential allows? Are you sitting at the bottom of the bleachers when you could be at the top? Challenge yourself to reach toward your potential and commit yourself to consistent effort, resisting temptations to coast into comfort. The meter is running.