The Problem of Settling for “Good Enough”

Written by on May 1, 2017 in Accountability, Self-Awareness

Settling for Less


Change is a constant theme in life.

We set goals and pick inspiring words and themes to guide us through yet another year of striving to grow on our journey to become the person we believe we were meant to be.

But as time passes, we may begin to doubt our dreams or simply grow weary of the striving and begin taking the path of least resistance.

This is the perilous moment when we begin to settle for “good enough.”

Some will insist that there is a lot to be said for not spending our lives obsessively striving to be or have more and taking the time to experience genuine gratitude for what we have in life.

Taken at face value there is a lot of truth to that notion.

However, being grateful for what you have and still believing you deserve and are capable of achieving more are not mutually exclusive.

Have you ever settled for a relationship that brings you more pain and sorrow than it does joy? Or for friends that sap your energy or put you down instead of support you?

Many of us have found ourselves in a position at some point in our lives where we accepted a job that didn’t even come close to fulfilling our potential, but it paid the bills and that’s what we needed most in that moment.

I’ve certainly been there, and maybe you have to, and there’s a lot to be said for taking responsibility for your life but that doesn’t mean giving into the idea that this the best you will ever be able to do.

The bottom line is, if you find yourself repeatedly rationalizing six different ways to Sunday about why you should stick with things (or people) the way they are even though you’re unhappy, or if the thought of reaching for something more generates feelings of fear and anxiety, these are clear signs that you are settling for less than you deserve.

Every day people settle for less than they deserve. They are only partially living or at best living a partial life. Every human being has the potential for greatness. ~Bo Bennett

How Do We End Up Settling for Good Enough?

Sometimes settling becomes a slow moving habit over time because we’re too busy with other things to notice. Occasionally there will be circumstances such as illness or family responsibilities that leave us little energy to focus on other areas of our life.

But more often than not we settle either out of fear of change or because we lack confidence and convince ourselves it’s the best we can hope for.

For example, settling for a situation that is troublesome but not (yet) threatening because you assume that things can’t get any worse may seem like a safe option at first … but also guarantees that things won’t get any better either.

I often see this pattern in personal relationships: accepting bad behavior, excusing broken promises, accommodating people who take more than they give.

Individually these transgressions are annoying, even hurtful, but it’s surprisingly easy to grow accustomed to the behavior because it is familiar and comfortable – if not pleasant.

But if you can step back and take a broader view of the situation it’s much easier to see – sometimes with shocking clarity – the long term damage being done and how the acceptance of an unhealthy relationship can adversely affect your self-esteem and in fact the entire course of your life.

Examples of settling for less thinking:
  • I guess this is as good as it gets, so I should just be grateful for what I have.
  • As long as I have enough money to pay the bills, that’s better than nothing.
  • It’s better to have these friends than no friends.
  • It’s better to be in this relationship than to be alone.
  • I can manage on what I earn a month, so it’s good enough.
  • At least I have a job, even if it’s one I hate.
There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. ~Nelson Mandela
Other signs you may be settling:
  • You wish time away – can’t wait for a lunch break, weekend or time alone.
  • You find it hard to get up in the morning.
  • You make excuses about why you should stay put rather than going for what you truly want.
  • You dream of a completely different life, constantly feeling the need to escape.
  • You find yourself feeling jealous of others lives.
  • You are more focused on complaining about all the things you don’t have instead of being able to feel genuine gratitude for the things you do.

The problem is it’s so very tempting to stay busy and simply avoid thinking much about why we make the choices we do, and even when the outcome leads us to fall victim to painful circumstances, we simply chalk it up to fate or bad luck.

But there is a lesson to be learned in every situation, so when you know deep down that something isn’t working, don’t believe limiting beliefs or negative self-talk trying to convince you that you have no choice other than to settle. You can at any time choose to take charge and change the course of your life.

Will it be easy? Probably not. Are you worth it? Absolutely!

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
Related reading: 
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click “here.


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  1. Great subject you tackled in this post. So often, we play small and stay in circumstances that are not aligned with self-love. I believe there are multiple reasons for that, for example fear of change, fear of rocking the boat, lack of self-worth and limiting beliefs as you mentioned. I enjoyed the post, thank you.
    Yudit -Raisefrequency recently posted…Love yourself quotes timeless wisdom – Self love the path to happiness and enlightenmentMy Profile

    • Welcome and thank you so much for letting me know that you enjoyed the post! I’ll have to return the visit and check out your post because I am a believer in the importance of self-love. 🙂

  2. Joyce Hansen

    You always cause such a deep stir in my thinking process.For a long time, living a life a being average was comfortable. As I got older, I discovered I wasn’t average, because I couldn’t relate to the average people around me. So, off on my journey to discover all that life has to offer.
    Joyce Hansen recently posted…Why 90% of Your Blog Is Not MemorableMy Profile

    • What a great point Joyce! Far too many people will try to make themselves average just to fit in, and that is nothing short of tragic! There are so many adventures to be had in life, it’s a shame to limit ourselves to what’s safe and comfortable. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Suzie Cheel

    Love the quote from Nelson Mandela and it sums up what you have shared in this article So important to know you are enough and then maybe we settle less for being enough? I know I am guitly of doing some settling that doesn’t serve me- thanks xxxx
    Suzie Cheel recently posted…How Will You Follow Your Passion This Month?My Profile

  4. Vatsala Shukla

    A lot of food for thought, Marquita. I’m going to have to rethink when it’s okay to say one’s best is good enough and if there may be a subconscious settling feeling in it.
    Vatsala Shukla recently posted…Let the Sunshine In! It’s a free health improvement resourceMy Profile

  5. Ah, Marquita, I think you often read my mind before you write your blogs. I have settled for having a certain person in my life because of a mutual acquaintance. But I’ve realized that it’s definitely time to move away from them because of the ongoing damage I’m experiencing. Keeping the peace is just not worth it.

    I don’t understand people who manipulate other people and pull this kind of mind-control on them. Let’s focus on sharing the good.
    RoseMary Griffith recently posted…Arizona Hiking – Sabino Canyon and Pinnacle PeakMy Profile

    • Ah yes, “Keeping the peace” is a phrase most of us have had to deal with from time to time. As you so rightly point out, short term it’s manageable but eventually it will come down to return on the amount of energy required to keep it going. Thanks for sharing, and good luck RoseMary!

  6. Tuhin

    Very important topic, Marquita!
    If a proper survey is done, surely majority of people around the world will accept how they settled for less.
    We tend to take important decisions in haste without thinking of the consequences which is the root cause of this problem
    Tuhin recently posted…8 Ways to Overcome Negative and Pessimistic ThoughtsMy Profile

    • Very true Tuhin. It’s so tempting to focus on just making the problem go away rather than investing the time to think about the consequences of our choices. Thanks for contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  7. Mark

    Thanks for sharing another eye opening post M!

    Thanks to your insights, it really has become a lot more obvious, how subtle, many of these tell, tell signs are.

    Because as you astutely pointed out, often times, certain potentially destructive behaviors, are simply allowed to continue and or they’re tolerated.

    And over time, are far too often thought of as acceptable.

    Thanks for shedding some light, and making it plain, they are not!
    Mark recently posted…How Your Cash Strapped Small Business Generates More Customers For Less Money!Part TwoMy Profile

  8. Grace Duke

    Thank you for the inspiration! Several years ago, I definitely was settling for good enough; however, I made some changes and although they were hard I am happier and more fulfilled. I will never settle for good enough again.

  9. Emily

    I find that sometimes I settle because the process to get what I really want is too long or difficult so I make do with what I have. Slowly, I have realised that I am not happy with this and now am making changes to stop settling and reach higher.
    Emily recently posted…The Boy with the World on His BackMy Profile

    • Good for you Emily! I wrote a post some time ago about the challenge of the “middle mile” for the very reason you outline. It can be tough pursuing a long-term goal but what can help is to create periodic milestones along the way. Something else I highly recommend is journaling or in some way keeping track of your accomplishments, no matter how small. I journal and keep a spreadsheet where I keep track of accomplishments, especially new things I learn. Where this really comes in handy is when you hit a lull or low point (and we all do from time to time) and you can look at this list (or read your journal) and see that you ARE making progress. I especially appreciate my spreadsheet at the end of the year when I have a snapshot of activities through the year and that makes it so much easier to establish meaningful goals for the New Year. Hope that helps, and thanks so much for contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  10. Sadly it’s easy to settle for “good enough.” I find I’m there right now with my job. I like it, but I feel like I could do more. So now I’m blogging and making a few dollars there – I’m working hard and hoping to provide an income from that stream in hopes I can cut back on my outside the home work hours (or quit altogether!)
    Great post. 🙂
    Jessica – A Modern Mom’s Life recently posted…What This Mom Really Wants For Mother’s DayMy Profile

  11. Phoenicia

    Excellent article Marquita!

    I can certainly relate to this. At particular times in my life, I have settled mostly due to fear, fear of moving on and feeling that perhaps I did not deserve any better. Once you know you deserve more then you do something about your situation, you push to make the necessary changes. The person within the situation needs to arrive at the point of wanting change – nothing friends, family, counsellors can speed up the process.

  12. K.R. says:

    Thank you. This resonates. I wonder if you could offer some thoughts about another reason why people sometimes settle… Because they simply can’t picture what that “something better” is for themselves. It seems like it would be hard to move from settling to striving if a person hasn’t got a clue what they are striving for. How can people identify that for themselves?

    • I’ve seen the example you mention many times when I was working as a small business coach. Time and again I found clients really had no vision for what kind of life they wanted to build for themselves beyond building a business.

      There is no one size fits all solution because we each come from different backgrounds and circumstances. But I can tell you that it begins with self-awareness. When someone says they don’t know what a better life would be for themselves that’s a pretty good indication they are out of touch with their core values and may even be comparing themselves to other people.

      It’s not realistic to aim to strive for something better without focusing on a particular area, so unless someone has a goal in mind I normally recommend starting by developing a simple self-care plan because this encourages you to focus on your needs, invest in some time for reflection and getting to know what you really want from life, and requires setting a few basic healthy boundaries to make time for yourself. Hope this helps, and wish you all the best!

      • Ethan

        Great reply, Marquita. For a long time I’ve been out of touch with my values; I was looking at another direction I was ignoring my values that were like crying for my attention. Years later I’m doing something different, and that I genuinely want to be good at.

        I like the example, “it’s better to have these friends than no friends.” To me it’s becoming a criterion that when I’ll be able to surround myself with people I actually like and respect, anytime, even if I need to turn down “friends” introduced by parents, godparents, work, etc. … then that should mean that I’m living my best life.


      • Mel says:

        Great reply (and article) Marquita. I’m so, so glad you’re spreading this type of information out there, in the midst of so much bad advice telling people to “take what you can get” and making them feel disempowered.

        I completely agree that it requires self-awareness. So many young people try to figure out “what should I do with my life” (and societal pressure doesn’t help) before they even know themselves and their personal values. So the more important question is “who am I.” It’s amazing how much clearer things get once we focus on determining what WE think is important. It can be hard because so many people have limiting beliefs and ask the wrong people for advice! And instead of looking inward, they rely on outside sources.

        Settling for less is the road to an unfulfilling life.

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