Should You Settle?
Written by Greta Schledorn
We’ve all been told to follow our dreams—but what happens when they don’t align with reality? There’s a difference between taking a job you’re not ecstatic about and settling. Not every job will be glamorous and pay the bills (this isn’t “Sex and the City,” unfortunately). Sometimes, a starting point is entirely necessary, and that’s OK. It’s important to know what (and how many) trade-offs to make.
First, define (for yourself) what it means to settle. For me, settling is more than taking a job that isn’t perfect—it’s taking a job I’ll never look forward, to that doesn’t nourish my passions or allow me to showcase the talents I’ve worked to hone. Ask yourself questions like, Do I believe in the company’s values? Am I excited about the culture? Will my employers value my hard work? If your answers to these questions are “no,” you might be settling.
Realistically, no job is “perfect,” especially when you’re beginning your career. Before writing off an opportunity, think about what’s most important to you and what you can live without. In some circumstances, it might mean taking a pay cut to do what you love. For others, it might mean the opposite—earning the money you’d like to while doing something that doesn’t spark your passion. Decide what aspects of a job are non-negotiables, then hold yourself accountable. Try only applying to jobs that offer what you’re looking for. If you’re offered a job that checks most of your boxes but leaves a little to be desired, negotiate. Negotiating a salary—or other perks—isn’t always comfortable, but it can be the difference between a “decent” position and one that makes you feel valued.
What happens if you’re offered a job you’re not excited about? My advice (in any given situation, really) is to make a pro-con list. Weigh your options and figure out what you prioritize. Maybe you prefer a job with a flexible schedule over one that pays a bit better. Maybe you’re willing to commute farther if it means better benefits. Decide what your values are and what you are (or are not) willing to sacrifice, and go from there.
Whatever you do, don’t let your decision come down to fear. Will you genuinely find this job fulfilling, or is it just a safe option? It’s normal to crave security, but don’t let it hinder your happiness. Likewise, remember you don’t have to take the first job you’re offered. After the anxiety-filled application and interview periods, it’s tempting to jump on the first offer you receive, even if you’re not thrilled about it. Give yourself time to think it through before committing. On paper, a job you don’t like seems a lot less scary than not knowing how long you’ll have to wait before a better opportunity comes along.
I understand fear of the unknown all too well. Right after graduation, I was offered a full-time job at the company I interned with throughout college. On one hand, everyone I worked with was great, the pay was good, and I already knew everything I needed to know about the job. On the other hand, after almost two years interning there, I knew I needed something that was a better fit for my skill set. At first, the risk-free option seemed great—but taking risks is all part of the process. A part of me wondered if turning down this opportunity was straight-up stupid, but a larger part of me knew I wouldn’t be fulfilled in this position or happy staying in my college town. After thinking it through, I realized the only reason I wanted the job was for financial security and the peace of mind that comes with staying in a familiar place.
Instead of accepting the job, I asked if I could work part time remotely over the summer while accepting an unpaid internship at another company that excited me creatively. Settling for a full-time job I wasn’t in love with would have saved me a lot of stress, but I knew I wouldn’t feel good about it in the long run.
It’s important to recognize not everyone has the privilege to turn down a job they don’t love, or to accept an unpaid internship, or to make rent with an unstable income. The reality is there are always bills to pay, and many people don’t have savings or a financial support system to fall back on when they’re faced with the opportunity to take a risk. In this situation, consider how you can continue working towards your career goals while working a day job. The skills you learn at the job you need will most likely translate over to the job you dream about.
At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all, right or wrong answer. Jobs are temporary and your career is fluid. If fear is the only thing holding you back from pursuing your dreams, don’t settle. Before long, you’ll end up wanting out and wondering why you took the job in the first place. Sometimes, whether or not you settle depends on how you define settling. Instead of viewing a job you have to take as settling, think of it as an obstacle you’re pushing through to get to where you want to go. It’s rare to find someone whose career has been one high point after another, and it’s OK (and sometimes necessary) to spend time working outside your dream field—you might even find your place somewhere different than you initially imagined. Settling is about accepting less than what you’re worth, or feeling stuck in a job you dread doing every day. If you know you’ve reached that point (or will eventually reach that point if you take a job offer), it’s time to start planning your exit and looking for a fresh start.
Accepting a job that isn’t your dream job doesn’t mean you’ve failed—it means you’re willing to work to support yourself so you can continue chasing those dreams, even if you have to make a detour along the way.
Greta is a social media manager, freelance content creator, and devoted cat mom based in Jacksonville, FL. She recently received her Bachelor’s degree in Editing, Writing, and Media from Florida State University, where she found her place as a writer. In her free time, you’ll most likely find her reading a memoir, bullet journaling, convincing friends to go to karaoke, or rewatching Desperate Housewives. Keep up with her on Instagram or on her website.