From a young age, we're taught that "settling down" is critical to our success as women and men, adults and citizens, spouses and parents. Stable, fruitful career? Check. Coupled with a mortgage? Check. Have kid(s) or planning on it? Sure.
Old-fashioned though it may seem, even when we're living consciously, that chase — for THE job, THE relationship, THE house and family — is still so emphasized by our culture that we often forget to notice what we're really chasing.
It wasn't until I heard myself at a party last year saying to friends that I was "looking forward to feeling settled again" that I finally admitted how much the "settling down" trap had toyed with me. I'd been sharing news about our cross-country move when I heard myself say that. As soon as I did, I paused, shocked by what I'd heard coming from my own mouth.
Since we met 14 years ago, my husband and I have made a very conscious point of trying to live authentically. This has led us to make some unconventional choices: in addition to being self-employed for the past 10+ years, we've lived in several cities, and didn't become parents until our late 30s. For better and for worse, it has also meant renting for the six years since we sold our first house.
For five of those six years, I'll admit, I was plagued by a fairly serious case of mortgage envy. Even post-mortgage crash, not owning a home in my early forties felt like wearing a giant "I'M A FAILURE" sign on my forehead. No amount of success in other parts of my life seemed to make up for the fact that we, for the time being, don't own a house.
After admitting that to myself, I felt sad, but also a little relieved. I didn't have to pretend any more. I could fess up to how much our lack of home ownership was actually bothering me. Once I did, I got curious, and began asking myself some pretty loaded questions. What was I really longing for? Was it a brand new set of walls, or something those walls symbolized? I also began discussing similar questions with friends and family.
In that process, I was reminded of some important lessons that have transformed how I feel about my life. So for those times when you find yourself chasing items on your "settling down" checklist, here are some valuable reminders:
1. Life is a journey. Change is constant.
I know it. You know it. We all know it... so why do we still chase that fixed point where we and our lives will be "settled"?
It's easy to say that we embrace the fact that our lives are forever in flux; it's entirely another to feel "settled" in the midst of that flux. Getting to a place where we weather life's many storms with grace and gratitude is a lifelong process. There is no fix or cure, just a beautiful, sometimes harrowing, journey we must continue to log.
2. When we obsess, it's time to ask what emotion(s) we're trying to create or avoid.
Whether we are obsessing over getting a house, meeting our ideal partner, changing careers, having a child, or anything else, really, obsessing in this way a sign that we're avoiding something else. Buying THE house, I realized, had long been a part of my vision of what success would feel like.
Feeling successful, however, has never been about a new house key. It IS, however, about pursuing my bigger dreams. That means putting myself out there, and risking rejection. Scary? Absolutely. Critical to my personal fulfillment? Yep.
3. Let's direct the chase away from "settling down" and toward personal fulfillment.
In recent years I've also noticed how unfulfilled those who appeared to have "settled down" have been feeling. Friends who have THE house are plagued by relationship issues. Others with huge careers dream of staying at home. Still others wax poetical about quitting their jobs to start a business or move to another continent. "Settling down" hasn't made them feel successful, or even safe.
Seeing this, I've been reminded that success – at work, home, in love, family, and beyond – is only worth chasing when it's a reflection of your truest self and greatest gifts.
4. Just to be clear, though, there's no shame in wanting the trappings of "settling down."
Provided we don't confuse those checkmarks with happiness and fulfillment, all of them can add depth and richness to our lives.
As for me, I'm looking forward to our next house, but finally enjoying where we are now. At long last, I'm also taking action toward realizing my larger dreams – and with so much still in flux, I've honestly never felt so settled.