I had just gotten home from my rush hour commute through the 115 degree summer heat in Phoenix, Arizona. My car rolled across the the gravel in front of my rundown shack by the railroad tracks. I went in and turned on the ailing air conditioner and flipped on the TV to decompress from a soul-sucking day at a job that I hated.
I had no idea what to do for the rest of the day. I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t have any plans.
The news called for another monsoon storm that evening. As the clouds rolled in and the rain started falling heavily on my shack, I remember hearing the drops of water hammering against my roof and the windows so hard that I was legitimately concerned that the whole place would collapse. Either that or that it might flood, as a puddle of water started to form around the perimeter of the shack.
How did my life get to this point? This wasn’t the way that I wanted my life to go.
Only a little over a year ago, I was living in a pretty good life. I had a nice job back home in Seattle. I had friends, things to do on the weekend, and a life that I was genuinely happy about (It was also a bonus that I didn’t have to worry about my house falling apart…).
Where did things go so terribly wrong?
As I sat there worrying that my shack would collapse or flood from the downpour, I asked myself this question.
How did I end up here?
It turns out I could trace it all back to one thing that I did. One simple thing that took my life into a nose dive and systematically seemed to be tearing every part of my life into pieces.
And maybe you’re doing this too.
I moved to Phoenix to go to grad school. I originally wanted to go to UC Berkley, but unfortunately, they didn’t quite see things the same way. So, after receiving a rejection letter from Berkley, I picked Arizona State because, well, it wasn’t ranked all that poorly for my academic program (what a great reason to pick a school!).
I worked at a job that I hated because it was the only summer internship I could get that actually paid decent money, even though what the company did went in stark opposition to my own personal beliefs.
I lived in a rundown shack by the railroad tracks because it was the only place I could rent near the ASU campus (all the other apartments were at least a mile or so away, and I didn’t want to pay extra money just for a campus parking permit).
I had no real friends or anyone to spend time with because I spent too much time studying during the school year to actually meet people outside of my very insular and focused program. With all the other students flocking home for summer to reunite with their girlfriends or escape the angry Arizona heat, I had nothing better to do that Friday night other than make sure nothing important was on the floor of my shack (in case that ever-growing puddle outside my door actually spilled over onto the floor).
So what was this thing that was slowly ruining my life?
In case you haven’t guess it yet, it was the fact that I was constantly willing to settle for just a little less than what I really wanted.
ASU and Phoenix weren’t my top choice for a place to live or go to school and working a job I hated was never part of my “master plan.” I never wanted to live in a shack by the railroad tracks. And I certainly never intended for school to overwhelm and eclipse having anything even vaguely resembling a social life.
All of these things were the result of settling for something just a little bit less than what I really wanted.
And this was only after about one year.
Can you imagine what would happen if you lived your entire life this way? Can you imagine the sorts of dead-ends, half-hearted goals, and failed dreams that would litter the path I would travel if I kept this up?
Suddenly, in that moment, I could see the consequences of that kind of life. Working at a “safe” job I hate, being in a lukewarm relationship that was “comfortable,” and living a stifled life filled with unrealized dreams, and goals that I never had the courage to reach toward.
That thought scared me more than what I’d have to tell my landlord if that water level came an inch higher and my shack flooded or even collapsed that night from the wind and rain.
It was in that moment that I decided to never again let myself take the easy route simply because it was the path of least resistance. I would refuse to settle for less than what I really wanted.
And one year after that, I had met a woman I truly loved, started my own business, and moved out of Phoenix to a place that was more my style to rebuild my life again.
I know that life can oftentimes seem difficult. Sometimes it can seem like you’re stuck where you are in your career, your relationship, or anywhere else in life.
But you don’t have to stay in a situation that doesn’t fulfill you. You can always find the courage to reach beyond your comfort zone, and ask for what you really want in life.
Yes, the easy route or the path of least resistance may offer the short term benefit of avoiding challenge, and choosing to fight for what you really want may be a struggle at first. However, making this choice is the difference between actually reaching your dreams and letting them die a slow and quiet death as they get perpetually deferred to the graveyard of “someday.”
Although, they may seem just outside your grasp, you may be surprised how quickly you can achieve them if you’re willing to push yourself a little harder and never settle for less than what you know you want.
Photo by Sebastian Anthony