“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
Although we call it “comfort zone”, when we’re stuck in it, we no longer perceive that sense of comfort; rather, we find ourselves apathetic and dissatisfied. This frequently happens with careers. It could be because you had a job for a number of years and, although it no longer excites you, you decide to keep it. Or it could happen when you’re looking for your first job and decide to take one that doesn’t align with your hopes, values, and interests, but it’s readily available. While it’s normal to decide to play it safe when you’re not sure what you’re going to do next, persistent feelings of de-motivation and dissatisfaction likely signal that you’re settling for less than you deserve. So, listen to yourself and try to shake off the fear that prevents you from aiming higher.
Finding yourself repeatedly thinking “I can make this work” or “I can endure this” is one of the first signs of dissatisfaction with your job. Sure, even your dream job can be exhausting and frustrating, but you need to gauge how often you feel this way. Your job should not be an unbearable burden that suffocates you; rather, it should give you the opportunity to shine and show off your talent. So, asking yourself “how often” helps you understand if you’re only going through a rough patch or if you’re settling (or have settled) for something less, be it in terms of abilities, salary, personal recognition, etc.
Settling involves self-deception. When you settle for something that doesn’t match your potential, you deceive yourself to think that your job is the best you can get, that nobody else would hire you, that you’re worthless. Sometimes you even go as far as guilt-tripping yourself into thinking that you should be grateful for the job you already have or have found, as it isn’t too bad after all. This is another red flag: when you have to actively convince yourself that something is good and you should be grateful for it, it means that you no longer see the good in it. When we find happiness and satisfaction, the feeling of gratitude arises naturally.
Apathy is another symptom that you’re settling for less, and it typically shows in thoughts like “Things are gonna get better” or “There’s nothing I can do about it”. Once again, by thinking that you’re not good enough, you convince yourself that you’re not capable to make any move and you’re the powerless victim of events.
Fear of change and of the unknown or uncertain is frequently the cause of settling for less in your career. If this is the case, try to rationalize the situation and think about how much scarier it is to regret things you didn’t do than things you did. Also, raise your standards and regain confidence: assess your priorities and skills objectively, and lose the“I’m not good enough” attitude that prevents you from trying anything new. Lastly, redirect the energy you waste on complaining about—and bearing—your job into something more productive and meaningful, such as opening yourself up to new opportunities. Remember: Fear keeps you from aiming higher and having a fuller life experience. When you play it safe, you meet your need for certainty and safety, but you don’t fulfill your need for personal growth.
This article was written by Alex Cherici.
Alex Cherici is a PhD candidate in Chinese Linguistics at Indiana University. She’s currently writing her dissertation and teaching undergraduate courses. Before resuming her academic studies, she has worked as a language teacher and school manager for eight years.