A few years ago, while working as a college writing instructor, I was sharing with one of my colleagues about the variety of freelance assignments that I had recently come upon.As I recall, that month, I had written a column for Country Weekly Magazine, an article for a pilot magazine, and several more for the Nashville Business Journal on local entrepreneurs. I was also working on editing a book on country music, and I remember being excited not only at the possibility of meeting new people, like Rosanne Cash, who offered to write the foreword for the book, but also for the additional income the assignments would provide. At the time, I had a young daughter and my wife only worked part-time. The salary at the college, while decent, was not lucrative, so the extra money would be put to good use.
After a moment, my colleague got a frustrated look on her face, and blurted out, “Why can’t you just be happy?” I sat in stunned silence for a moment before she added, “Why can’t you just enjoy your family and friends, take time off in the summers, and just have a normal life?”
Her question floored me on several levels. First off, why did she think I was not happy? I recall being pretty excited about getting the extra freelance work. I had never been one of those chronic complainers at the water cooler, although the monotony of teaching four or five sections of composition each semester did wear on all of us from time to time. Furthermore, I had lots of friends at the time, probably more so than I have had since: friends from church (where I was active in the music ministry), colleagues from work, good neighbors, and professional acquaintances. I was diligent, but hardly a workaholic. I took time to exercise and enjoyed good health. My wife and I got out to movies and concerts and even a diner out occasionally, and usually took a nice vacation each year. I had a pretty balanced life, if I have to say so myself. It wasn’t until weeks or perhaps months later, that I believe what she was really saying to me was, “Why can’t you just settle for less, like the rest of us?”
It wasn’t the only time someone had made a similar remark. My mother, while visiting us in Tennessee from Ohio a few years after that, had shared a similar sentiment when I was telling her about some investments we had recently made in real estate on the side, and the fact that I may get a chance to take a new job as a television writer/producer. “Oh, Randy,” she said in similarly exasperated fashion, “Why can you just be happy?” Again, I was stunned. I was very excited, and very happy at the chance to try something new and challenging. My mother, however, had grown up in a culture where getting a job at the local steel mill or pottery and staying there for 35 or 40 years was the true mark of success. Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s wonderful that people from that area are willing to work in the mills and potteries and produce the steel that builds our nation’s cities, and produces the kitchen and restaurant ware that we all need to eat. It’s difficult and noble work, but after a couple of summers working there during college, I decided that my talents probably lay in other areas. Ironically, my brother and sister also both found jobs shortly after college and stayed in the same jobs for the next 35 years. Again, nothing wrong with this if one decides that is his or her calling. But if someone chooses another path, or paths, during the course of his life, why would that choice somehow preclude happiness and fulfillment? Quite the opposite is true, I believe.
Perhaps my mother, like many mothers, was protective of her children and leery of them taking financial risks or venturing out into new and challenging career areas for fear of them being hurt or disappointed, but I’ve always believed it’s better to take reasonable risks and fail than never to risk at all.As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
Was my desire to achieve something more out of life than a steady paycheck for 40 years something they simply did not understand it, or were they perhaps jealous of my passion and desire for new pursuits? I recently purchased a copy of Megyn Kelly’s new book, Settle for More. Kelly shares the story behind the book’s title. “’Settle for More’ has been my life motto, ever since I was an unhappy lawyer looking to change my life years ago,” Kelly says. “I caught Dr. Phil on TV one day, who said the only difference between you and someone you envy is that you settled for less. So I thought to myself: settle for more. My book delves into how I put that into action, breaking into news and finding true love.” I can’t wait to read her take on this.
What about you? Are there people in your life who have thrown cold water on your dreams, or discouraged your ambitions under the guise of simply looking out for your best interests, or protecting you from being hurt or disappointed? What are your thoughts on ‘settling for less’ even when it appears to be a more secure path? As we look toward 2017, are there areas in your life where you have decided to ‘settle for more’?