Accept vs. Settle

03/31/2014 05:12 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

by guest blogger Renee James, essayist and blogger

Despite my relentless pragmatism, I am, inexplicably, a big believer in signs. For the past several months, and very specifically for the past few weeks, I feel like the universe is trying to get me to pay attention and learn a lesson. So let's start with this one, shall we?

Here are two words that seem to keep me up at night: accept and settle. Do they mean the same thing? Are there nuances that make a difference? Let's start with the basics--entries on read as follows:

Accept 1. to take or receive (something offered); receive with approval or favor...

2. to agree or consent to; accede to...

Settle 1. to appoint, fix, or resolve definitely and conclusively; agree upon....

So, what have we learned? Both indicate agreement of some kind; both of them seem to indicate a shared thought/experience/consequence that all parties favor. Still, they feel different to me. Why does "accept" feel so positive and "settle" feel so underwhelming and sad? Moving on...

Following the onset of my accept/settle conundrum, I read an interview with playwright/actor Tracy Letts. He talked about not marrying until he reached his late 40s, and explained it this way: "I think there comes a point in your life where you own your damage. You don't necessarily get over it, you don't necessarily have it all figured out, you just say this is mine, these are things I have to be aware of, take care of, work around."

This was one of those moments when reading something stopped me cold. Maybe now was the time in my life when I should finally own--or accept--my damage. Maybe now was the time to try to stop "fixing" everything I found "less than" about myself.

As I go about the days that make up the second half of my life, it's about time I stop battling the damage, blaming the damage, and denying the damage, and instead, co-exist with it as productively as I can.

Or is that settling for less than I can (or should) be? Then again, "should" is a horrible word itself--so filled with remorse and disappointment. Moving on...

For no discernible reason, I plucked Philip Simmons' wonderful book, Learning to Fall, off our bookshelf last week. In the forward, I read the following: "As I see it, we know we're truly grown up when we stop trying to fix people. About all we can really do for people is love them and treat them with kindness. That goes for ourselves, too. That goes for ourselves especially... Accepting ourselves means accepting the whole package, the whole sour and sweet, lovely and larcenous mess that we are."

There's that acceptance idea, again. The notion that not every bit of us is pristine and pure, but every bit of us is worth accepting. It's Tracy's philosophy expressed a bit more poetically, about owning your flaws and realizing they are an integral part of you, not stray puzzle pieces that don't fit. And that all sounds delightful, but really, how many of us love our flaws? And what does this say about self-improvement? Do we stop trying to learn how to hit a slider, knit a sweater, or speak conversational French? Moving on...

Back to my original question, the difference between "accept" and "settle." When I asked members of my Facebook community, the idea of control and choice emerged as very big themes. We accept (with grace if we're so blessed) those things or events we can't change. We settle, one could say compromise, on those things or events that are beyond our control. Alternatively, we settle when we choose not to pursue change, sometimes for very good reasons. One feels more confident; one feels less so.

The signs of the universe seem to be telling me to pay attention to my life. What do I accept, and what do I settle for? Sometimes the "greater good" may be best served by settling, whether that means keeping a job, a relationship, or a belief intact. My conundrum is figuring out whether or not to accept that kind of settling.

At this point in my life, I'm not reluctant to own my damage. I'm not entirely over it (never will be), but I'll manage. As long as I keep asking myself that question--Are you accepting or are you settling?--I think I'll be okay.

Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists' Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates--and broods about--life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, "Really? You're kidding me, right?" (Or wants to, anyway), and welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.

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