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
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
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.