Personal Growth

Are You Settling for Second Best in the Game of Life? How to Get Back on Track

settling for second best
Photo by Greg Raines

Do you find yourself just trying to get through the day? As much as I talk about living in the present, I don’t always practice what I preach. These last few weeks, I’ve been operating purely in reaction mode. My ever-growing list of obligations looms over me like a tidal wave, and I don’t see it abating any time soon. My definition of a “good” day is one in which I meet my deadlines and show up to my classes with a lesson actually prepared. It’s times like this when I realize I’m settling for second best.

Are you “really” happy?

A couple of years ago, I was talking to my grandma when she asked me, out of the blue, if I was happy. The question took me by surprise. Did I look like I was unhappy?

I said I was, either because I wasn’t prepared for the conversation if the answer was “no” or maybe I tricked myself into thinking I was. But my grandma was a very perceptive woman. I’m sure she saw through my answer.

I’ve been thinking about this moment a lot, as my grandma died recently. She lived not only a long life (95 years) but also a rich and full life. She maintained a close relationship with her daughter (my mom), read extensively, and was a superb conversationalist with a great sense of humor. She certainly set the bar when it comes to living a fulfilling life.

my grandma and I

Thriving or just surviving?

So often, we make it our goal in life to avoid disease, debt, and despair. Or when we do experience problems, to exit out as quickly as possible.

But what about creating genuine, lasting joy?

In this interview with Kara Loewentheil of the UnF*ck Your Brain life coaching podcast, she explains that with her clients, “the first round of coaching” focused on getting “out of pain, and the second round of coaching focused on getting into pleasure, joy, and excitement.”

This was key for me because so often many of us, myself included, turn to self-work when we’re low, but we stop as soon as we feel better. We forget that living a fulfilling life isn’t just about being problem-free, but about connecting to your passion and purpose.

Otherwise, you’re just living on autopilot.

Luckily, each day is a new day to get back on track. One of the reasons I write this blog is to help myself stay accountable and help you stay accountable, too. Here’s how you can course-correct when you find yourself slipping into survival mode.

3 Ways to Stop Settling for Second Best and Start Truly Living

Do you find yourself just trying to get through the day? Settling for less because you're so exhausted? Discover how to get back on track and start living your best life. | thriving | stop settling for less | live your best life | gratitude journal | setting intentions | living with purpose | meditation | daily journaling |

1. Seek Spiritual Guidance

Meditation is the best method I’ve found for tapping into Beingness.

I know, know. When you’re crazy busy, meditation seems like a luxury you just don’t have.

Trust me, though, taking an extra few minutes out of your day makes a huge difference. Even looking at it from a purely pragmatic view, it gives you the tools to cope when things DO go wrong, saving you time and energy in the long run.

In particular, I enjoy guided meditations on YouTube (as long as I don’t “cheat” by checking my emails at the same time!). My favorite is Kris Dillard. His latest video addresses some of the same issues I discuss here: that we only meditate when we’re having problems or when we feel like we have the time (in other words, never), which hurts our momentum.

Other times, I’ll say a short prayer in the woods after my jog. I imagine that I’m taking the issue and handing it over to God.

Sometimes I’ll get clear guidance, sometimes not.?I’m still new at this. But either way, I’ll feel lighter afterwards, like a burden has lifted.

2. Be Intentional

In Debbie Ford’s 21-Day Consciousness Cleanse, which I review here, each day involves a different theme: surrender, forgiveness, etc. In the morning, you set an intention to embody that quality throughout the day.

Debbie knew, though, that many of us would “fall off the wagon” after finishing the program. So she?recommended that each morning, we decide what state of consciousness we’re going to inhabit and identify three actions that will help us maintain that state.

This is such a novel concept because otherwise, we end up being pulled by the winds of whatever happens that day. This doesn’t mean that if live intentionally, we won’t ever get sad or frustrated. But at least we’ll have a “home base” to turn to, giving us a chance to change direction!

I’d recommend putting your intention in writing (and yes, this recommendation extends to myself because I haven’t been doing this consistently). Which brings me to my next point.

3. Write It Out

I’d never been into journaling. The idea of writing for no particular purpose or audience didn’t appeal to me.

But part of Debbie’s book involved daily journaling. I really got into it because the writing was targeted and focused. Something about writing down my long-repressed memories and emotions as well as my deepest desires has been incredibly powerful.

As Trisha Traughber writes in The Real Reason You Should Capture Your Moments, journaling allows you to catch those slippery moments that may otherwise pass you by.

Journaling, I’ve found, can be a powerful tool for both reflection and for designing your future — long-term and short-term.

Also, many people report feeling happier and more content as a result of keeping a gratitude journal.

In Tim Ferris’s interview with A.J. Jacobs, author of Thanks A Thousand: A Gratitude Journey, Jacobs describes how he takes the concept of gratitude to a whole new level. He gives thanks to the unsung heroes of our modern society, from those who make the cardboard sleeve that goes around our coffee cup to those responsible for spraying the lines on the freeway that prevent us from driving into oncoming traffic.

He explains that this practice reminds us how we’re a part of something bigger. We all have a valuable contribution to make to the larger whole, no matter how seemingly small.

Your Turn

As Madonna says in Express Yourself, don’t go for second best. This doesn’t just apply to romance, but to your whole existence. And you don’t need a man (or woman) to make things right.

Where in your life do you feel like you’re settling for less? What will you do to amend this?


22 thoughts on “Are You Settling for Second Best in the Game of Life? How to Get Back on Track

  1. I really love your blog.. Very nice colors & theme. Did you
    develop this web site yourself? Please reply back as
    I’m trying to create my very own blog and would love to find out where
    you got this from or just what the theme is
    named. Appreciate it!

    1. Thank you! I use the Dara theme with WordPress. Some things about the themes are annoying like when I try to make words bold, it doesn’t show up when I click publish unless it’s a header. I do love the colors, though.

  2. I’m sorry for your loss Kate, my Grandma recently passed as well and can say that the oldies truly know what is best for us – they’ve lived and been through so much! I agree with not settling for second best, the older I become the more I realize what’s important (family, friends, relationships). Life’s too short to not do you.

  3. Thanks for sharing this Kate. It really got me thinking. I think I just started thriving in life ever since I decided to step out of my first start-up last year. It was due to a bad business relationship that I decided to step out of the partnership. Now, I’m focusing on my writing and sharing my experience to help others.

    1. Thank you, Ye Chen! Yes, I think often we start something and feel an obligation to stick with it because we don’t want to let others down. I’ve definitely been there. But it’s so much better to be in a position where you feel fulfilled, appreciated, and are in a mutually beneficial relationship. I, too, feel that sense of purpose by sharing my writing and experiences with others!

  4. This comment is generated towards how I resonated with your site…
    There did come a time in my life where I felt I achieved pretty much everything I wanted to accomplish where I ended up asking myself the question, ?Now what?? I felt this sudden urge and drive to be and do more, especially for others. I totally get what you mean by feeling magical and I, too have experienced moments like those. They are far-and-few in between, but I am to recreate or ?generate? situations that can ignite those feelings again. Those magic moments truly do awaken something in you and light a spark of creativity and inspiration for you to carry those feelings out. I am not a writer, but I do consider myself (and all humans) creatives. I do appreciate art and beauty and aim to live an exuberant, joy-filled life. I look forward to reading more of your content. Thank you for sharing such an uplifting post!

    1. Thank you, Albany, for sharing! Yes, so often we finally arrive at our goal and then we wonder what the big deal was. We forget that life is a continual process of making meaning and finding the beauty in every day moment and finding ways to share this beauty with others.

  5. I’ve always found excuses why I was settling for the less. It wasn’t the right time, I had to wait for something, I needed more experience… But in the end, it never feels like the right moment, and all you have to do is make a decision.
    I couldn’t agree more with your 3 tips! Especially the one about intention. I also find it so important to notice that almost everything we do is a choice. Once I realised that, I noticed that I was actually the one writing my story and not some circumstances I couldn’t control.
    For now, I haven’t tried journaling, but I do try to practice gratitude on a daily basis. Remembering what you already does wonders to make me feel happier and less stressed out about everything.

    1. Thanks, Karina! Same — I’ve always been an expert at finding excuses! At some point I finally wised up and realized that all that energy spent making excuses could be better spent on living the life I really wanted.

  6. It’s such a delight reading your article today. It makes total sense. This is what I learned from retiring at 29 and moving overseas twice. I guess that explains why I am always saying that I am a nomad. I haven’t met my tribe and the people who think exactly like me and why I chose the life I am living right now. When I couldn’t seem to understand why, I wrote them down. You’re right. meditation, being intentional and writing help so much. =)

    1. Wow, Dani, that’s amazing that you retired at 29! I enjoy my job, but I there are days when my job frustrates me, and to be honest, I don’t know if I’d have the guts just to leave it all and start fresh in another country or somewhere with a lower cost of living. I admire your courage!

  7. I really like the distinction you made between getting out of pain, and getting into joy and fulfillment. I can relate to being stuck in the rut of doing just enough work to get out of pain, but not following through on living the life I really wanted. I’m going to try the tip about setting an intention for a quality to embody each day! Something else that has really helped me is an experiment I’ve been doing (and blogging about) for the past year, based on the principle of kaizen (continuous small improvements). Each week I find 2-3 small things to improve in my life – these could be microhabits, or fixing things up around my home, or sprucing up my wardrobe – and the feeling of continuous upward progress is really gratifying, plus I’m consistently moving toward the life I want and the person I want to be. No more settling!

    1. Thanks, Susan! I really enjoyed your article on kaizen and will start applying it to my own life. It reminds me of the book The Slight Edge. One thing I’m working on is addressing tasks as they come up instead of letting them pile up. I learned my lesson this week when progress reports were due and I had to catch up with all the grading I’d been putting off for weeks, resulting in tons of stress!

  8. This was great! I have to try meditation. .. I do pray and that helps but I definitely need some zen during most days! I am always crazy trying to do things in so many directions.

  9. I like your post, thank you for sharing…. Journaling has helped also, since I started bullet journaling I have been able to take charge of my life and actually live and not just thrive.

    1. Yes, David, I attempted for years and felt like it was a waste until I traded a more structured approach. Given that your own writing is more structured and follows constraints, I feel like such an approach would work well for you. By the way, I’ve really enjoyed reading your daily poems — a poem a day (and rhyming, no less) is impressive! I’m terrible at poetry so I’ve always admired those who do it well.

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