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?