“Most people give up finding their soul mate, and settle down to just having a flesh mate.”
― Anthony Liccione
Data-driven decision-making is one of the most sought-after skills these days. As a professional with a background in data, I love to get as many facts as I can get before making a call. I also love to take inputs from the relevant audience before making a critical decision. This approach helps me at my work and is appreciated by my colleagues as they know I would have done my homework before going with a specific decision. It helps me guide my colleagues too when they’re struggling to make decisions. Data tells us a story that oftentimes is not obvious. It brings into awareness the reality while ensuring that people’s emotions don’t get in the way of making a decision.
Then, what makes it challenging to apply the same framework to make a decision when it impacts me personally? A few months back, I had to decide which city I wanted to move to. People say, at times of confusion, follow your heart. The problem was my heart and mind were equally torn. On one hand, I had an opportunity to move to a city I had wanted to live in for years. On the other hand, the city I was living in was providing me with opportunities that I couldn’t have imagined. After countless discussions with friends and family, hours of research, and introspection, I decided to move to the city of my dreams. However, a week after signing my lease with my new apartment, I started to dread my decision. All of a sudden, the city I was in started to look better, the opportunities that it offered seemed unparalleled and the city of my dreams stopped to look as appealing. A week before I was about to move and just when I had convinced myself that there was nothing that I could do but move, I got a call from my apartment manager telling me that there was a problem with my application and my signed lease had not reached them. It took me a second to tell them that I wanted to withdraw my application and was not interested in moving there anymore. Now, you would expect that I would have stayed back in the original city. Not really, I still chose to move to the city of my dreams but to an apartment complex that I had an emotional connection with – an apartment more expensive than the one I was planning to move to but an apartment that I couldn’t get out of my head. So, what changed? I was still moving to the new city albeit at a better apartment. The original city still offered more opportunities than the new one. While I didn’t realize it when I made this decision, I realize it today – I was not fine with settling for an apartment that didn’t meet my expectations. It was a more reasonable and logical choice but it didn’t satisfy my desires. My discomfort with moving to that apartment had me question whether I even wanted to move to the city of my dreams. My heart wanted to make the move but wanted to do it in a way that met my expectations. It did not want me to settle for something less than what I deserved.
This is not the first time in the past year that I have come across a situation where I have found myself struggling to follow the same decision-making process that I have followed throughout my life. In the past, where I would have made a decision solely based on “what’s the most logical choice to make at this moment”, I seem to be struggling to settle down with something that doesn’t meet my expectations and wants even if it means making a tougher choice. Recently, a similar situation played out in my professional life where I got an opportunity that a few years back, I would have been extremely enthusiastic about. Yet, I have spent the last two months, struggling to find the same excitement. The day I got this opportunity, I called a friend and gave her the good news. Her immediate response was “Why are you sounding sad? This is such great news!”. I said, “I am not sure. I should be happy, right? It’s such a good opportunity. But, it’s not inducing any excitement or even happiness in me. I mean, I am not sad but I am not thrilled either.” It took me two months of doing an in-depth pro cons analysis, discussions, retrospection and everything in between to realize – “I am not sure if this is what I want. It’s not good and it’s not bad. I am just not sure if this is the best that I can get. I am not sure if this is worth it. I am not sure if this is worth me.”
Not settling for whatever is available to you is a new concept for me. Before writing this blog, I didn’t even know that this was the reason behind my feeling unfulfilled. That’s not to say that I am not ready for a change. But, that means that I am ready for something worth my time and effort, and that better aligns with what I want and what I am worth. I have grown so accustomed to settling down for whatever I can get that sometimes I don’t expect or ask for more. It does not mean that I’ll happily sabotage myself for others but just that I never believed in my value or self-worth enough. I didn’t believe in my capabilities enough and didn’t give myself enough credit to go after what I truly want.
A person becomes an accomplice in their dissatisfaction when they constantly settle for less than what they want. Settling isn’t the same as accepting something/someone as is. It isn’t a noble martyrdom. It’s a way to trap ourselves in something that makes us unhappy, but doing it anyway out of insecurity, fear, or a reluctance to go against the opinions of other people. It’s the opposite of self-love. It’s letting your fears and other people dictate the direction of your life.
Settling for whatever I am given has been a behavioral pattern throughout my life and today when I write this blog I can see how this pattern has affected all the areas of my life. In professional life, I have settled again and again with whatever I could get rather than asking for what I deserve. I would do my best in projects, go above and beyond for my team and colleagues, but when the time came to reap the benefits of my work, I wouldn’t appreciate myself enough. I can’t recall the last time I celebrated success at work. When my peers were off celebrating our graduation ceremony, I was telling myself that it was not a big deal. When I was applauded for my contributions to a project, I told myself that anyone could have done it. When I was told I will be recognized for my work, I told myself that I didn’t care. When accolades were handed to me, I told myself I didn’t deserve it. I have often given the credit for my achievements to everyone around me except myself. I would recognize and remember every small contribution that anyone has ever done for me but would never sit back and congratulate myself for a job well done. I can still recall every tiny gesture that my mentors and managers have made that has contributed toward my progress, but I can’t recall any time I have thanked myself for my contributions or told myself that I deserved to be valued as a colleague/employee.
I follow the same pattern in my relationships. I have settled for relationships where I was not respected for who I was – both platonic and romantic. I have settled for connections where my contributions were overlooked and where I was not appreciated or valued. I have settled for connections where I kept giving without stopping to see if I was being given the same level of love or support or even the respect that I deserved. A few days back, I told a friend that I am a giver in romantic relationships. I always thought that this meant that I loved to keep my partners happy and that their happiness made me happy. What I overlooked was that I have never been comfortable with receiving the same love. If I valued someone, they could do the basic minimum for me and I would continue to give them the same level of energy, time, and love. For me, that’s what love and friendship were all about – being unconditionally available for those you love. However, if someone openly showed me their love, I would feel incredibly uncomfortable and run for the door. My best friend came up with this psychological technique a few years back – She never openly declared her love to me, would not hug me, or even tell me how important I was to her. She would patiently wait for me to show her that love, and only when I did, would she open up. She told me that she had learned this about me only a few weeks after knowing me – I was not comfortable with receiving love, and the only time when I wouldn’t run away was when I was in the “showing” mode. Give it to her for recognizing this in me even before I did! I always thought that that’s just who I was. But, I am starting to see that it wasn’t about feeling uncomfortable with love. It was about my believing that I didn’t deserve it because I was not worth it. I didn’t realize that there are always two people in a connection and that they both deserve an equal give and take. I didn’t realize that unconditional love always starts with self.
Today, I realized that the reason behind me settling down for less had nothing to do with the opportunities presented to me or with people around me. It had to do with a simple truth about myself – I just couldn’t see or realize my value. I never have. Ever since my childhood, I have had this innate need to prove my worth. Everything had to be perfect because if it wasn’t then that would mean that I failed and people around me would be disappointed. But, the truth is, I was not afraid of disappointing others. I didn’t want to disappoint myself because I was already my worst critic. When it came to any form of love or recognition that was directed towards me, I’ve always preferred to settle for something rather than ask for what I truly deserve. In my mind, a good enough opportunity was all I deserved. A good enough relationship that checked a few of the boxes was all that I could get. A good enough friendship that served a little of my needs was all I needed. Because something was better than nothing and that something was all that I was worth in my eyes.
But, I am worth much more. I am worth receiving the love and recognition that I deserve. I don’t have to give more to something or someone when my wants and needs are not met. I don’t have to keep giving to people, connections, relationships, jobs, careers, or anything where I am not valued the same way. I don’t have to give more to something/someone when I am not getting the same in return. I don’t have to pretend to be someone else to meet someone else’s image of who they think I am or what they need me to be. I don’t have to pretend to be happy in a situation when I am not happy. I don’t owe my time and energy to anyone but myself. I don’t owe my love and appreciation to anyone but myself. I don’t have to be a giver all the time and I deserve to be given what I want/need, and if I don’t, then, I don’t have to settle. My worth cannot be determined by something or someone else. It comes from me and I am worthy of whatever I want or need.
“Unconditional self-worth is the sense that you deserve to be alive, to be loved and cared for, to take up space” [Source: How to cultivate a sense of unconditional self-worth/]. Unconditional self-worth is taking a step for yourself and believing in your worth even when no one else does. Unconditional self-worth is choosing yourself when no one else does. It’s choosing to forgive yourself every step of the way, it’s choosing to believe in yourself when things get tough. It’s choosing to become your supporter and taking your side when it feels like the world is against you. It’s telling yourself that you will be there for yourself no matter what. It’s choosing yourself even if that means letting go of something or someone precious who doesn’t value you enough. It’s letting go of statements like –
“I will feel worthy when…”,
“My dreams and feelings are not more important than….”,
“My aspirations are not worth fighting for”,
“This relationship/job/connection is more important than myself”,
“This is all I deserve because this is all I am worth” (settling),
“At least it’s better than…”
“No one is completely satisfied”
What is it in your life that you’re settling for? What is it that you see in others that you wish you had? What is that dream that you’ve always wanted to go for but stop yourself from going after because you believe you cannot do it or are not worth it? What is that life that you’ve always wanted to live but are actively choosing not to so that you can meet someone’s expectation of who and what your life should look like? Finally, what are the “shoulds” in your life that you apply to yourself but won’t want the person you love unconditionally to apply to them?
While my therapist tells me to avoid questions like “What If” to avoid thinking traps, I believe there are certain situations where it can be successfully used to our advantage. When making a critical decision, try and ask yourself – “What if there is something better? If there is, what will it look like? How does this <decision> compare with what better looks like to me?”. When deciding to not take an action towards your desire out of fear, ask yourself, “What if it works out?”. When deciding to settle with someone/something, ask yourself, “What if I am letting go of something I deserve for something that does not align with me completely? What if that something was here, how will it differ from what I am settling for? What if my best friend was in the same situation?”.
Today, choose yourself. Choose to be you and choose to love yourself unconditionally. Believe in yourself and believe that the one person who deserves your utmost attention, love, time, and energy is you. You are worth everything you set your heart and mind to. You are worth everything your desire. You are worth that promotion, you are worth that recognition, you are worth that undivided attention, you are worth being cherished for who you are, you are worth being your whole self. You are worth that unconditional love. You are worth it all!