I’ve been thinking a lot about compromise lately. Some people do it too much in life, others not enough. Over the past year, I compromised a lot to be with someone I thought I loved. If you asked him, he’d say he did the same. At some point, the question loomed: If all of this compromise is required, is this the right thing for either of us?
It’s a hard, gut-wrenching lesson to learn in romance, but it also applies to your career.
Compromise is indeed a requirement for successful relationships and successful careers. We can’t have everything our way 100% of the time. Holding out hope that you can is setting yourself up for a lot of pain. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice one thing to make other things possible. You give up a plan you had because the other person has a different one. You give up a ridiculously high salary because the job that actually makes you happy doesn’t pay as well as the one that makes you miserable.
It’s a matter of give and take, finding a middle ground where both sides still can be happy—where you’re able to say it’s a worthwhile exchange: By giving up this thing, I get this better thing.
Give up your plan, get love. Give up the salary, get job satisfaction.
It’s hard to know where that “perfect” point is though. You don’t always know the reality of what you’re giving up and what you’re getting and the true value of those things. You don’t always know what other options exist. You have to make choices without knowing if somewhere out there you really could, possibly, have it ALL. Your plan and love. The salary and job satisfaction. Or maybe just a version of life where you’re closer to having it all…
So here’s what I’ve learned about compromise, and it applies to love, career, anything.
Start by knowing what 100% looks like for you. What would your career/marriage/new home etc. be if you had 100% of what you want? Don’t hold back. Go big. Be bold. Define what you really, really want from this thing, whatever it is.
Then, as you survey your options—job prospects, eligible suitors, homes for sale—really ask yourself: What am I gaining and what am I giving up? And ask yourself if the trade is a win.
I call it Conscious Compromise. Too often, I think we compromise without consciously even knowing we’re doing it. We only realize in hindsight that we did, and usually when things aren’t working out, when we’re questioning our choices. At that point, the value of the thing we gave up seems enormous. And maybe it is, but maybe it isn’t.
Conscious Compromise doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly NOT want the thing you gave up. That ridiculously high salary? Yeah, it would still be nice. And you’ll miss it. But if you made the choice consciously—you weighed the gains and losses honestly—you won’t miss the thing you gave up as much. You’ll know it was deemed a reasonable price to pay for what you were getting in return. And yes, that could change. But at some point, you really did give it the thought it deserved.
Conscious Compromise also doesn’t mean you’ll make the perfect choices every time. You may still end up in a bad relationship, a job you hate, or a home that doesn’t really work for you. But that value question I mentioned earlier? The one in bold print? You’ll learn something about that. You’ll learn more about what you value. You’ll learn more about what you’re really willing to give up and what you’re not. And you’ll make different choices next time.
I don’t believe in perfect people or perfect jobs. But I’m still a romantic at heart. I do believe there is a perfect person for me, just like there’s one for you. In fact, there are probably many. And I do believe there’s a perfect job for me, just like there’s one for you—probably many.
By “perfect” I mean that the compromise doesn’t truly feel like compromise. It feels like winning. It feels like you lucked out. If feels like whatever that stupid thing was that you gave up…it never mattered to begin with.
If it sounds like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth here, I am. You really can’t have everything. But when the right thing comes along, you’ll have everything you need and then some. That’s the paradox that is life.