This feels like a really edgy question. It goes to the heart of the lives and identities we have created for ourselves. And yet, it is a question that keeps coming up when I work with clients, so it is worthy of being addressed.

It is in essence the idea that our major life choices are more revealing of what we truly think about ourselves than anything we do or say. They speak to our innermost longings, expectations and needs and specifically what we think we deserve in life (or will settle for).

It is easy when we are young to imagine we can build a life that allows us to fully realise ourselves on a daily basis. The truth is that we often have to make compromises between competing needs and responsibilities. There then comes a point where we often think, “This is life. This is as good as it will get. Time to leave childish dreams behind.”

For example, I have worked with people who have decided to take jobs that not only don’t allow them to express their deeper selves but actively frustrate them creatively and intellectually. Jobs that are purely exploitative in terms of robbing them of their energy and zest for life. Jobs that leave them exhausted at the weekend and in need of rest and recuperation just to be able to face next week. I’ve been that soldier!

And yet, it is as if we feel we don’t have any other options, that in ways we don’t deserve any more or at least can’t build a life in which more would be possible. This is a world in which compromises have to be made and we have to settle for the best we think we can get.

Sometimes this is true. Sometimes we can do little more than suck it up. I’m thinking particularly of countless millions living in climate-ravaged countries with few or diminishing resources.

So, we probably have to give ourselves some dose of reality in terms of how likely it is we have a stronger hand than we think. And yet, we always have more options than we imagine. So, ask yourself:

  • What might be possible if I believed it were possible?
  • How have other people in similar circumstances and with similar resources made the journey?
  • What parts of this vision am I already living?
  • What else can I live into today?
  • Who might be able to help me step towards this vision?
  • What might be holding me back?

Personally, I’m not a believer in living for future visions. Instead, I believe in living into them. This means that each and every day we look to start bringing as much of that future vision into today as we can. No matter how small, it motivates us by giving us hints of what might be possible.

Questions in the Image:

  • What have I settled for?
  • Why have I settled for this?
  • What limits am I placing on my life?
  • What would I do if there were no limits?

Want to Read More Around This Topic?

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek (link to In this book, Sinek explores the importance of knowing your purpose (your “Why”) and how it can inspire not just leaders but everyone in an organisation. He posits that those who start with WHY are able to inspire others and achieve lasting success. It can also guide us a life in which we make as few compromises as possible.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day. This question of “What have I settled for?” has been with me for months. I have sometimes found it helpful to ask it in the present “What am I settling for?” This allows me to remove myself from situations that truly aren’t serving me.

What Thoughts Would You Like to Share? My name is Tom O’Leary, and I envision a world in which curiosity shapes leadership. In this world, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning. My mission is to shift leadership focus from authority, over-measurement and control to curiosity, learning and innovation, empowering leaders to prioritise the essential. My journey, lived in a number of countries and through various languages, has always been driven by a profound sense of curiosity. In fact, life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential. I welcome your thoughts, feedback, or personal experiences related to these questions or any insights they may have sparked.