This week I had the opportunity to tackle a task I’ve been putting for two full years – writing a speech. I know – it’s hard to believe that I’ve been putting off something that involves talking, but there it is.

It’s not even that I didn’t have a topic. I’ve been polling my career coaching clients, Career Bootcamp participants, and the women in Next Chapter (a Meetup I run) for the past two years to see what they want to hear me talk about. They’re unanimous and adamant: “Becky, there’s one thing you talk about all the time – Never Settle.”

Funny, I’ve been settling by avoiding writing about not settling.

Ask Dolly

I organize my thinking about never settling around this quote from the incomparable Dolly Parton:

Find out who you are and do it on purpose.

This resonates with me because when figure out who we are and we do it on purpose, it’s impossible to settle.

Easier said than done, right? If it was easy to figure out who we are, everyone would be doing it and we’d all be happy. So what’s the problem?

It’s a setup.

I think that life sets us up to settle. First, as we’re growing up, we’re only exposed to the careers that are covered in our immediate circle – first our parents, then our school friends, and others as our circle expands. The problem is most of us spend our time with people who are like us, so our access to other career choices and points of view is limited.

Then we get tangled up in external expectations. You know the ones. When we’re in high school, everyone wants to know what we’re going to major in when we’re in college. For Pete’s sake! We’re only 15 years old and people want to know what we’re going to study in college. And we hear – loud and clear – the underlying question. What are you going to major in and do for the rest. of. your. life?

We’re 15 years old and people are already expecting us to know what we want to do for the next 20 years. That’s the definition of being set up.

Then we stay

Now let’s fast forward 15 years and we have that job we went to college for (really, does anyone get that job they went to college for?). And it’s okay. We don’t hate it. We don’t love it but we don’t hate it. Until that day we realize that this job doesn’t fit us anymore.

Once we’ve realized a job’s not a fit anymore, things come up every day that reinforce that idea. Things that never bothered us before. That person in the cubicle next to us that talks too loud on the phone. The fact that we’re working in a cubicle and have no privacy all day long.

And we stay. We hear that layoffs are coming, and we stay. We know the company is going under and we stay. We don’t even realize we’re settling. We’re just living our lives.

The devil we know

Why? Because all of us have this thing called the immunity to change. I think of it as a chronic disease because I’m always fighting it. We display our immunity to change when we prefer the moderate discomfort of the pain we know to the terror of what we don’t know. You know, better the devil you know than the one you don’t.

Until we’re laid off. Or the company closes. Or we just can’t stand it anymore. And we have to make a change.

We panic! Now we’re terrified. The fact is we’ve been settling because we’re not sure about who we are. Nobody ever tells us that we need to figure out who we are at work. We don’t even know where to start. We’re worried that it will take too long to figure out who we are and we’re in a hurry. And, even if we have the time to invest in figuring out who we are, we don’t do it.

We don’t take the time because we’re terrified. We’re terrified because we know we have this potential to do new and different things. And we’re terrified of even admitting that we have that potential.

It’s NOT too risky

You know how this plays out. I’m not going to apply for that job I’d kill for because I can’t believe they’d hire me. I’m not 1000% qualified for the job. Then it devolves into “I’m pretty sure I can do that job.” Finally, we say, “I’ll never get that job.” So we never apply for it.

It feels too risky. We get wrapped up in that nasty future failure mindset. What if …? I should…. I can’t.

Look. The truth is we can’t fail. We can only learn – because failure paves the way to learning and wisdom. And, the more we know about ourselves, the stronger we become. It becomes easier to take a risk.

So what are we to do in this situation? Go. For. It. Dare to take a step toward reaching your potential. And always remember that when we know who we are, and do it on purpose, it’s impossible to settle.