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When are you going to Settle Down?

By on Nov 10, 2015

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The last 10 months of my life have been divided between Mexico City, Rio, Medellin, Stockholm, Kiev, Istanbul, Budapest, Mumbai, and Bangkok. I started a new business in an entirely unfamiliar industry. I started learning Portuguese. I had the opportunity to experience Carnaval in Brazil, hot air ballooning over Cappadocia, explore the post-nuclear disaster city of Chernobyl, take a speedboat through Iguazu Falls, and witness Navratri celebrations in India. I could continue this paragraph almost indefinitely, but suffice it to say I’ve experienced a near lifetime of bucket-list items – all in ten months.

After sharing some of these stories with people, you would think the most obvious follow up question would be something along the lines of, what’s next? Almost bewilderingly however, the question I get asked most regularly is “when are you going to settle down“?

I’m often at a complete loss – not for how to answer this question – but for why this question is even asked in the first place. Hey guy who just got out of jail – why don’t you come back and settle down in this jail cell? Hey young Bill Gates – why don’t you forget that whole Microsoft thing and just finish your degree and settle down in a regular life like the rest of us? Whether brainwashed by society, culture, or their corporate overlords, most people seem convinced that settling down is something that you must do in your life eventually.

Urban Dictionary – the least authoritative source on the internet – defines the word “settle” as “the act of giving up someone you love or something of value for less than desired, the act of not being able to satisfy your need or want and choosing someone or something of lower standard or value“.

Everyone reading this post undoubtedly had ambitions growing up. As younger people these ambitions tend to be quite grand – dreams of becoming an astronaut and going to the moon, of owning their own yacht or private jet one day, or of traveling to the birth country of their parents and helping impoverished children. At some point in time however, most people gave up on those dreams and decided to settle down. As I’ve already mentioned, Urban Dictionary is hardly an authoritative source, but it does give us a good idea of what the general population thinks settling is – and yet most people choose to do it anyway.

Settle: the act of giving up someone you love or something of value for less than desired, the act of not being able to satisfy your need or want and choosing someone or something of lower standard or value.

Human hubris prevents people from admitting they’ve failed. Very few people will say to you, “yeah I really wanted to make a difference in the world but instead I gave up and settled down in this finance job”. Instead people will spin this as “I realized it was time to settle down in life and get serious”. This realization that people refer to however, was simply their decision to give up – to acknowledge their limitations and accept their existing circumstances in life. It’s the realization that separates average people from great people.

Most settled people are under the false impression that a lifetime of routine, hard work, and long hours at the office, will lead to success and happiness. This is bullshit. It will at best lead to a life of complete mediocrity. Being based on capitalism, western society has every reason to convince you of this – to work as hard as you can and accept a small pay increase or promotion every year or so to keep you content – because the harder you work, the more money you ultimately make your bosses and shareholders. Unfortunately most people have fallen for this brainwashing.

Most settled people are under the false impression that a lifetime of routine, hard work, and long hours at the office, will lead to success and happiness.

I generally make the effort to go home to Toronto every 6 months or so. Banking is stuck in the stone age and I often have to go home just to sign things. More importantly however, I go home to catch up with friends and family. On my last trip I stopped by my old office – from my previous settled life – to catch up with ex-coworkers whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. I obviously had a million stories I was excited to share with them, but before blurting them all out I decided to first ask “hey, what’s new with you guys”? Almost unanimously, their answers were all “same old”.

Same old. These were people I hadn’t seen in over a year. After I had lived through an entire year of adventure and learning, new friendships and relationships, successes and failures – a year of more stories than I possibly could have recounted to them during our 2 hour lunch. And all they had in return for me – these people who had decided to settle down in life – was same old. Yet it still seems to confuse many people that I don’t want that life.

I don’t mean to suggest that people need to spend their lives endlessly traveling, avoid committed relationships, or never start a family – these are things I potentially want in my own life one day. These things however don’t have to be roadblocks for previous ambitions, although many people decide to settle down and let them become just that. I personally can’t imagine a situation where I would look around and say to myself “ok I’m content here – there is nothing more I want to accomplish in life“.

My grandmother is over 80 years old. She immigrated to the UK from India in the mid 1900s, adjusting to a drastically new society, language, and way of life. She has lived through a world war, and the birth of 10 grandchildren. My grandmother often asks me when I’m going to settle down and this is a conversation I’m willing to have with her – she has lived a long and eventful life, and is likely past the point where she can go off and explore the globe, start a new venture, or make a massive difference in the world – this job is now left to her grandchildren.

When will I settle down? If you’re in the same situation as my grandmother, then I accept this question and am willing to have a discussion with you. But if you aren’t, then I’d like to first ask you – when did you give up and settle down?

10 Comments

  1. Cameron Cobb

    November 10, 2015

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    Sunil,

    Great message and very well written! It reminds me of the first Mark Manson articles I read a few years ago. They challenged me to consider what would make me happy and how I would pursue that happiness. It took me three years of completing school, paying off debt and saving, but ultimately I made traveling and writing a reality. I don’t know where this path will lead, but I’ll take a lifetime of searching over a lifetime of settling any day. I hope your message prompts others to take a few moments to reflect and consider taking action, if they’re settling. There’s a whole world out there. Like you, I’m loving every minute of it. Cappadocia, especially. Cheers and well done.

    Cameron

  2. Mohit

    November 10, 2015

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    Hey Sunil, this totally resonates with me, especially that we both have Indian roots, and I am from India of course. I truly believe that family and committed relationships aren’t necessarily roadblocks for your ambitions.

  3. Karina Kaushal

    November 10, 2015

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    Great read Sunil. But you know me…and I’m still not convinced. Your understanding of settling down is completely different from mine. To me settling, as you’ve referenced from urban dictionary, is very different from settling down. While I don’t have a problem with your understanding of settling, I generally use the phrase settle down ’cause my two year old nephew is running around screaming like an idiot. If you google settle down, it’s interesting to see the definitions. The ones I found and liked are:
    – To end or resolve (a dispute, for example) by making a decision or coming to an agreement. See Synonyms at decide.
    – To put into order; arrange as desired
    b. To place or arrange in a desired position

    Interesting right? To settle down means to find what you desire and arrange your life around that desire. To settle means to give up something you desire for something less.

    When your grandmother asks you when you will settle down, I believe, like me, she’s wondering when you will be finished with seeing every place possible and know the place you belong; when you will be finished meeting every person possible and know the one you belong with; when you will be finished starting new business ventures and find the one that makes you happiest;

    Just to illustrate, while one person may date tens of people before they marry another might have a high school sweetheart that they marry. One isn’t necessarily less happy than the other.

    But, the worry, from your grandmother’s standpoint is, the more people you date, the harder it may be to make a decision and you may spend your whole life dating and never finding the right person.

    Apply my dating anology to all the experiences you’re accumulating.

    So Sunil, when do you plan to settle down?

  4. Semone

    November 11, 2015

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    I love reading your blogs! As a previously education and career driven person, previous to my three kids, I would have been right there with you but my perspective changed when I had my family. You are so right with your critique of the term ‘settle down’ most likely coined and repeated by those who were not ready to sacrifice and give of themselves to thier family. Lucky for me even though I had and reached many career and personal goals having a family was also important to me. I was ready to shift my focus from me to them. I never felt like I settled down – just transitioned to the next challenging phase of life. And all the great things I’ve learned and experienced I pass on to my kids – while helping them develop into kind, mindful and critical thinkers such as yourself. I had to write this to you as I want you to know that there are some of us that don’t believe in settling down, rather ready for life’s next adventure of selflessness and incredible growth. There is nothing like being a parent and loving your child and I can’t wait for the day you get to experience that as well – when you’re ready of course!
    Love your cuz

    • Semone

      November 11, 2015

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      Sorry to add to that, in order to support that family, most will need the stability of that routine job. There’s many days I dread getting out of bed – but it’s my family that motivates me to do it. I’m so amazed and proud of all you have accomplished and hope to see even a quarter of what you’ve seen – once these munchkins grow up of course!

  5. Andrew

    November 11, 2015

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    Awesome write up, and so happy to see that you have the right mindset. Also happy to have shared some of these experiences with you.

    See you somewhere soon man!

  6. Paul Austin

    November 11, 2015

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    but isn’t this article just beating the same dead horse that every other ‘lifestyle design’ blog has been parroting for the last 2-3 years?

    Your writing is excellent and the points well-made but there isn’t any value added to the long-continuing dialogue of ‘fuck the norm, live differently.’

    What if, instead, people ask, “when are you going to settle down” not because of societal norms but because the desire to settle and cultivate community is inherent to the human condition? 

    Gallivanting across the world is fun but, for 98% of people, it is unsustaniable for an extended period of time. 

    (One point of reference: Tim Ferriss, the Godfather of Digital Nomadism)

    Why? Because for many in this generation, travel is a reactionary measure to a previously dissatisfying existence. 

    The perceived difference between us digital nomads (yes, I am also one) and those who live more traditional lifestyles is a matter of semantics: we are both living in reaction to something we don’t want.  

    This is common for young adults. Whether you’re reacting to work/social life dissatisfaction (many DNs) or you’re reacting to the societal demands of your peers and elders (many living traditional lifestyles) you’re still not in complete control of the decision process.

    The real difference only happens once you’ve been in the game 3-5 years. Once you’ve committed your life to living differently forever. Once you’ve gotten over the hump and come to understand, “I’m not better, I’ve only figured it out a little sooner.”

    And when you get to that point, you might realize your interests are best served by settling down. Like so many other former nomads have come to realize. 

    Which will beg the question:

    By settling down have you given up or have you finally committed?

  7. Sunil

    November 11, 2015

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    I think I may have over-emphasized the traveling aspect in this post to the extent that people are missing the point. I’ve never identified as a “digital nomad” – I live here in Budapest at the moment specifically *because* I am surrounded by friends and have a solid community. Granted I do take the occasional extended vacation, and granted these occur quite frequently – but as awesome as these have been, I would still say the main highlights of my year have been practicing a new language, meeting new people, and growing my businesses.

    I could take the traditional approach and just settle down here in Budapest – a place I love, and surrounded by an awesome support network – continue to work hard and grow my revenues, and live a bit of a settled life. This would in fact be a very easy choice and likely the one that most people in my situation would make.

    Or alternatively, I could eventually leave Budapest – leaving behind close friends who I will then be able catch up with around the world for the rest of my life. Sell my business(es) and use the profit and knowledge generated from those to start entirely new ventures that will teach me new things in life, and perhaps give me even greater opportunities for success, and continue to grow as a person and as an entrepreneur. This would be the non-committed approach, and it’s the one I would take every time.

  8. Rob

    November 11, 2015

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    When I think of “settling down” I think of making a mindset shift that involves starting a family and putting that family’s needs above one’s own desires. For many people, this requires routine and limits travel. Perhaps it is possible to travel with a screaming, pooping infant. But I wouldn’t want to be that @$$hole.

    So yeah. If raising a family isn’t important, there are an infinite number of waterfalls, hot air balloons, motorcycle roads, new foods, beaches and monuments to discover.

    For me, as much as I’ve traveled, I still can’t find anything that contributes more to happiness than love of family. I’ll be getting started on mine pretty soon.

    Anyways, after a while, every city starts to seem kind of the same.

  9. Wana

    November 11, 2015

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    I have been travelling for almost in my entire life, i remembered when i was 16 yo, i told my parents im gonna live bu my own, they paid for me ticket and give me 50 dollars. Im happy that i decided to not settle down. Since that time, i have opportunities to explore the great ocean road in Australia, land my feet in Sydney, exploring quarter of Europe even mastering one of difficult language in the world. Deustch! I often asked when do you gonna getting married and build family luke your sister? My answer is always the same.. i let the life lead me. Its only a matter of time, i am enjoying my adventure currently. My sister who is 2 years younger than me often confronts me, listen, i have husband, family, soon a house and a baby, job and some money, what do you have? Of course i don’t have all of it right now, however i have experience to share to my future children, im collection moments, i live my life, i get out of society standard and perspective. But im happy. Everybody has their own standard of happiness, mine is.. exploring the world 🙂

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