The Case For Settling

I lived an exciting life, but if given the choice, I would’ve much preferred being fairly average.

smiling male traveler walking with map having city tour excited with urban setting on autumn weekends GaudiLab | Shutterstock

One day, I’d like to give it all up and just be a handsome millionaire. That’s what I like to tell myself, anyway.

The joke is, of course, that both of those things would be an improvement over my current lot.

While we like to tell ourselves that these are things we work really hard at, both beauty and wealth are often things we just are.

Gifts bestowed upon us by good fortune or great genes.

I’m thinking about these things, now more than ever, on the wrong side of 40 and wondering how much time I’ve already wasted and how little time I have left.


I wonder if you wonder about these things, too — about taking the easy road — and if there are on-ramps to it after you’ve taken the other route the whole time. Because the longer I live, the less attractive an exceptional life becomes.

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I’ve lived, by most metrics, a pretty exciting life.

I’ve made (and lost, and made, and lost) plenty of money. I’ve climbed mountains and run marathons. I’ve won prestigious awards and worked for prestigious companies (and people). I’ve traveled around the world. I’ve been in rooms I’ve had no business being in.


Frankly, I think I did all this to overcompensate for what I lacked. I lack the discipline, the desire, or the natural talent, at being good at the basics.

Given the choice, I would’ve much preferred being a fairly average (but disarmingly attractive!) person with excellent health and preternatural people skills.

I think I would’ve been better off believing in a god, getting married at 25, having kids at 30, owning a suburban home, working a corporate job for 25 years, and achieving an 800 credit score.

I think perhaps the root of my disdain for dull was my inability to actually make it happen for myself.

I didn’t go to one college, I went to four. I didn’t find a career till age 30. I traveled the world instead of paying a mortgage. I still don’t think I’m very good at people.


I would love a peaceful life of quiet success in a boring discipline, yet when presented with the opportunity at various junctures, I doubled down on excitement or simply squandered the opportunity away. My soul would whisper to me, "You weren’t meant for this." I still don’t know if it meant I deserved more or less.

I mean, how hard is it? A family. Weekend BBQs and soccer games. A quarter-acre. Geographically convenient friends. An office job rearranging numbers on PowerPoint slides and presenting them to your boss.

I know incomprehensibly dim-witted people who do all of the above easily. Meanwhile, I’ve ghostwritten congressional speeches but can’t even remember to mail my sister a birthday card.

I just can’t help but color outside the lines, I guess. I can be everything except basic, despite feeling a burbling tinge of compulsion to be only basic.


Still, I mean — my favorite band is U2, and my Starbucks order is a regular cappuccino with no mods. I wear Levi’s jeans and solid-colored T-shirts. I can do basic; why can’t I just do the basics?

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In the U.S., and perhaps in your country, too, we collectively — and I’m probably going to get some blow-back in the comments that scream something to the tune of "hey, not all of us" — value one of two things:

  1. People who consistently meet our expectations.
  2. People who consistently subvert our expectations in such spectacularly surprising fashion that we can’t help but admire them.

The word "consistently" is the one doing the work there. People who sometimes don’t meet our expectations are kinda disappointing. People who subvert our expectations any less than the most are unsafe.


The value here is in consistency.

The real value is staying the course, whether it’s the straight-and-narrow or the renegade outlaw. It’s the toggling between the two that’ll getcha.

I often find myself toggling. Not because I want to, but because I haven’t yet been able to stop. I don’t know how true this is for any of you, but I find this penchant the most maddening of all.

So, when I say "The Case for Settling" all that really means is I wish I could be consistent. Reliable. Bankable. Not hot-and-cold, not spectacular sometimes, not almost amazing, not kinda boring. Metronomic. Unflappable. Immovable. Stoic. Solid. More principled and less capricious. More thoughtful and less of an overthinker.


I’d settle for that. How hard could it be?

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According to Einstein, "Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it earns it; he who doesn’t pays it."

I think about that a lot with respect to time wasted and time left. I think about how much more I now need to invest to get the same return — if only I’d invested a little bit a long time ago.

That’s why every successive swing gets bigger and more risky. It's why the on-ramps to the easy way get fewer and farther between with the passage of time, and why the toggling happens more often and the distance between the poles becomes more extreme.


See, you hit 40, and all of a sudden you dream differently.

You feel the winnowing of possibilities. You feel the exhaustion from trying so hard. You see the kids younger than you doing stuff you don’t even wanna do anymore. You start to feel the invisibility creep in when you go out to bars and restaurants.

You watch your friends’ kids grow up. You realize you won’t have ’em. You start to think of other ways to fill the hole. You start filling it with the wrong things. You start digging new holes.


And all those opportunities — professional, personal, existential, erotic — all get rarer. So you work harder. You work yourself to the bone. All for one big break. One new person to believe in you. One more shot to prove you’ve still got it.

One real chance to prove you’re so impossibly good that you won’t have to keep trying so hard. You can just give it all up and be a handsome millionaire.

But the longer life slips away the more you gotta invest to get the same return. The compound interest stacks up. You find your pockets lighter and emptier.

You realize you never really understood it, you’ve been paying dearly, and that the easy road never looked so hard as it does now.


RELATED: How To Manifest A Better Life Than You Ever Thought Possible

John Gorman is a Clio Award-winning writer and corporate brand strategist living in Austin, Texas. He is the author of an immensely popular Medium page and has had work featured at CBC, Entrepreneur, Huffington Post, Inc., Insider, Sports Illustrated, and Thought Catalog.