Avoiding the Plateau: How to Stop Settling for "Good Enough"

You may have heard that life is a series of valleys and mountaintops. Some seasons are incredibly difficult; others, incredibly fruitful. But among the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, we forget to mention one place that most people spend a lot of their lives trekking: the plateau. 

A plateau is what happens when we decide we’re satisfied with where we are. It could be that we look at the mountaintop off in the distance and fear the hard work it will take to get there. On the other hand, we could look at the valley down below us and become terrified of getting stuck at the bottom. In any event, we wind up staying where we are, a comfortable place with a decent view. 

Comfort is not inherently a bad thing, but staying comfortable like this is. We may think we’re protecting ourselves, but whether we realize it or not, we’re actually telling ourselves, “This is good enough,” and robbing ourselves of the best we can be. We let the fear of failure become crippling until the comfort zone we drew around ourselves becomes a cage. We are no longer just keeping the bad things out; we’re keeping ourselves in.

There’s a C.S. Lewis quote about settling for “good enough” that goes like this:

“It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with…ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Though this quote talks about plateauing in your faith, plateauing can happen in a variety of ways and all throughout your life – in basketball, in school, in a job, even in your own personal development. Now, it can and should be a life goal to be contentwith your circumstances, and to recognize the blessings given to you. However, this contentedness cannot become satisfaction. Growth never happens when you’re satisfied with where you are. It only happens when you are either pushed toward something better or pulled away from something not good enough. 

Think about your goals. What kind of basketball player do you want to be? What kind of student? What kind of person? If you think you’ve already reached your peak achievements in any of these areas of your life, you’re probably missing out on even greater achievements somewhere down the line. If mountain climbers thought that the Great Smoky Mountains had the best views, no one would know the beauty at the top of Mount Everest. No one would know that climbing that mountain was even possible.


What if you’re a greater athlete than you could ever imagine? What if you can earn grades in school you never thought possible? What if the person you already are can’t even compare to the person you are able to become? Don’t you want to see what you’re capable of?


Then you can’t decide to settle. 

There are two fears you have to get out of the way in order to overcome the mindset of settling:

  1.  Fear of Hard Work

    Growing is hard work. Just as it is much easier to walk on flat ground than it is to climb a mountain, it is much easier to stay exactly the same that it is to try to make yourself better. But, just as the view from the top of that mountain is infinitely better than the view from the plateau, the reward of improving yourself and achieving greater goals is infinitely better than the alternative. You have to accept that hard work is just a part of a much greater journey. As the old cliché goes, “No pain, no gain.”

  2. Fear of Failure

    There are just under 1000 people who attempt to climb Mount Everest every year. You know how many actually make it? About half. 

Do you think the other 500 are frustrated they didn’t make it to the top? Of course. But they probably would have been a lot more frustrated with themselves if they never tried. There may be a 50% chance of failure if you try to climb Mount Everest, but there is a 100% chance of failure if you don’t. 

All this to say: you can’t view playing it safe as a way to avoidfailure when it is, in fact, a guaranteeof failure. With this perspective, settling for where you are is no longer a way to avoid your fears; it is an automatic way to make sure those fears become your reality. The only way to avoid them, then, is by taking the leap of faith and trusting that what is ahead is better than what you have now.

 It’s really easy to fall into that trap of thinking where we are is the best we could possibly get. But strengthening that growth mindset now will develop it into your go-to mindset in the future. Live life as if there are no limits, and you’ll find that the daily grind of navigating the mountaintops and valleys is so much more satisfying than settling for that old plateau. 


*note: cover photo credit to Dave Rodney