25 Famous Women on Not Settling for Less

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Settling can be dangerously seductive — only in that it’s far too easy to get lulled into a job, relationship, or routine that is comfortable, easy, and not quite challenging enough. But that lack of challenge comes loaded with danger, because when we choose to settle for less, we also choose to not put our best abilities or self worth to the test. Naturally, some of the most driven, successful women have refused to settle for anything less than they deserve. Below, twenty-five powerful women share their thoughts on forging your own path — in life, business, relationships, and more.

1. Rihanna
On relationships: “I always see the best in people. I hope for the best, and I always look for that little bit of good, that potential, and I wait for it to blossom. You want them to feel good being a man, but now men are afraid to be men. They think being a real man is actually being a pussy, that if you take a chair out for a lady, or you’re nice or even affectionate to your girl in front of your boys, you’re less of a man. It’s so sick. They won’t be a gentleman because that makes them appear soft. That’s what we’re dealing with now, a hundred percent, and girls are settling for that, but I won’t. I will wait forever if I have to … but that’s O.K. You have to be screwed over enough times to know, but now I’m hoping for more than these guys can actually give.” — Vanity Fair, November 2015

2. Jenna Lyons
“Never settle by compromising out of convenience or laziness — or because it’s ‘not your job.’ If something’s not done good enough or if you know it could be better, help make that happen. Don’t wait for someone else to point it out.” — Time, February 2016

3. Jane Fonda
“As I read this, I am about to turn 78. And though I know you’ll find this impossible to believe, this is the happiest I have ever been. It was all worth it, the good and the bad. So don’t give up. I’m proud of you because you will never settle for less than you think you can attain.” — CBS, December 2015

4. Issa Rae
On what she learned from creating Insecure: “That you do have to really want it and that you have to be patient. That you have to talk yourself into it constantly. It really is a test of: How bad you wanna do this? I had to remind myself everyday that I didn’t want to do anything else and that I was good enough to do it. This is such a rewarding experience, to be able to work with the people that I want to work with and produce something that I’ve wanted to see on TV for a long time.” — Elle, October 2016

5. Venus Williams
“Losses have propelled me to even bigger places, so I understand the importance of losing. You can never get complacent because a loss is always around the corner. It’s in any game that you’re in — a business game or whatever — you can’t get complacent. You have to stay on top and learn from mistakes.” — USA Today, July 2010

6. Renée Elise Goldsberry
“When people say to me, ‘I’m so happy for you, Oh my God! I can’t believe — finally!’ I always chuckle to myself. I really felt very good about my career before Hamilton. This is something that’s never happened to anyone before. It’s changed the world for me as well, but I’m always surprised when people admit how disappointed they were for me before Hamilton. ‘Really? Was it that bad?’… I’ve had significant moments in my life before where people were like, ‘Renée, this IT! You are going to blow up!’ And even in my 20s, I always felt like I would smile at that statement and think, ‘Maybe, maybe not. I’m going to enjoy this for what it is at the moment.’ I always smiled and didn’t really listen but just hear the compliment and be in the moment and enjoyment. I feel that way about Hamilton, too. You have no idea what tomorrow holds, ever. You only know what today is.
And today I get to be a part of this massive theatrical hit. I don’t even really have the words to describe what it is. And I’ll probably spend the rest of my life trying to formulate them.” — Bust, May 2016

7. Constance Wu
Fresh Off the Boat is the first Asian-American television show led by [an] Asian-American [family] in over 20 years. I’d always booked television work, but I’d always been in the supporting role, the best friend or the assistant to the white person. And I was grateful and happy for that. I wasn’t forced to think about it, because I was placated to the point of satisfaction.

“But once I was in the lead role and other people started making such a big deal out of it, I realized I was previously blind to it. I thought, I should read stuff by people who’ve thought about it more than I have. It was quite freeing [to discover that] the self-blame I had internalized my whole life had a language and a community that I hadn’t previously had. That said, I think that sort of self-blame informed my work ethic. It made me want to work harder.” — Allure, April 2017

8. Jennifer Lawrence
On speaking out about the pay gap in American Hustle: “You know, [after the Lenny essay came out] my agent was like, ‘God, I feel like I look like a terrible agent.’ Well, no, because you have to do everything I say. And I said, ‘Settle.’ ‘Cause I just wanted to do the movie; it wasn’t about money to me at the time. But all the actors were doing that. None of us were getting our [usual] quotes. But the difference in who was getting a little less, and a lot less, than their quote was very vast. And I wanted to write about how I got in my own way. ‘Cause I assume that in negotiating, the men were tough as balls.” — Glamour, January 2016

9. Amy Poehler
“Anybody who doesn’t make you feel good, kick them to the curb. And the earlier you start in your life, the better.” — Harvard Commencement Address, May 2011

10. Yvonne Orji
“When the show came out, all these articles were like, Yvonne Orji, TV’s new bae. I was like, Who they talking about? They not talking about me! Who hasn’t had a date in how many months? Me. Who ain’t been nowhere? Who hasn’t been to anybody’s Nobu on anybody else’s dime? Me. But personally, I literally just resolved like, ‘You know, God, it’s me and you. We ridin’ out. It took me ten years to make it in my career. If it takes me a decade to find the right love, I know it’s going to be sweet. Please don’t let it take a decade, ’cause I’mma hurt you.’” — GQ, July 2017

11. Solange
“I’m not settling for being allowed in these spaces but for tearing these f—king walls down. Inclusion is not enough. Allowance is not enough. We belong here. We built this sh-t.” — Time, May 2017

12. Dolly Parton
“Well, my songs are my children, as I say, and I expect them to support me when I’m old. And, you know, it’s like my publishing and my songs is what I’m going to leave for my family. And to me, I was building a company. I’d already recorded that song, and I already had it published. I had 100 percent of the publishing. And for Colonel Tom to ask to give me up half of a song — they waited, though, ‘til the last day, when they were recording, then just sprang that one on me after I told everybody Elvis was going to record my song, and I cried. I cried all night about that. And I — you know, and it was such a disappointment, but I thought, no, I’m not giving you people half of my song.” – NPR, February 2009

13. Nicki Minaj
I just want women to always feel in control. Because, we’re capable — we’re so capable. It’s one of the reasons that I have these women that I look up to — because they did not allow being a woman to make them feel like they should settle for less, financially. No, money doesn’t mean everything. But it says a lot.” — Dazed Digital, September 2014

14. Elizabeth Gilbert
“Of course, it’s not always a pleasant experience to have our certainties stripped away. Sureness is something like a neck brace, which we clamp around our lives, hoping to somehow protect ourselves from the frightening, constant whiplash of change. Sadly, the brace doesn’t always hold. I could list for you a tragicomic litany of all the things I was once mistakenly completely certain about, and I’m sure you can do the same. Maybe you, too, were once absolutely sure that you’d found your great love, or your final best friend, or the perfect mentor, meditation, or medication that would — once and for all — never fail you. And then? Slowly, it seems, we are not so sure after all. Such is our slippery toehold here on Earth, and so it has always been.

“Perhaps it is for this reason that the people we instinctively turn to in times of trouble are those who — we sense — have made space within their convictions for doubt and mystery. Compassion grows best, it appears, in the soft spots beneath quiet surrender. So I try very hard to go easy on the firm conclusions. These days I settle for feeling only 85 percent sure about most things, most of the time. I believe this is keeping me sane, and I also believe that it’s keeping me human. In fact, I’m 85 percent sure of it.” – O, the Oprah Magazine, November 2008

15. Madeleine Albright
“We cannot be complacent, and we cannot forget the hard work it took us to get to where we are. I would argue that because of what is at stake, this is exactly the time to have a conversation about how to preserve what women have gained, including the right to make our own choices, and how to move forward together. I would welcome an informed dialogue that crosses generations. We have much to learn from one another.” – The New York Times, February 2016

16. Lizzo
“I think it’s important that I take full responsibility for the way the world perceives me, because that is the way they’re gonna perceive someone who looks like me in the future. Maybe, hopefully, that would give some young girl someone to look up to and take away the opportunity for someone to weaponize her uniqueness against her. I had to travel the world and I had to meet people and read DMs and look into their eyes and really hear their stories to believe that I was making an impact in a positive way. And now that I believe in myself in that way, I’m gonna continue to just push that conversation by being a better me every single day.” — Vogue, October 2020

17. Kamala Harris
“What I want young women and girls to know is: You are powerful and your voice matters. You’re going to walk into many rooms in your life and career where you may be the only one who looks like you or who has had the experiences you’ve had. But you remember that when you are in those rooms, you are not alone. We are all in that room with you applauding you on. Cheering your voice. And just so proud of you. So you use that voice and be strong.” — Marie Claire, February 2019

18. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
“Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” — Harvard University Luncheon, May 2015

19. Michelle Obama
“Do not ever let anyone make you feel like you don’t matter, or like you don’t have a place in our American story — because you do. And you have a right to be exactly who you are.” — First Lady Farewell Speech, January 2017

20. Reese Witherspoon
“I’ve realized that life is too short to spend my time with anybody who doesn’t appreciate me, treat me with respect, or bring value to the relationship. I’m much more confident now, and I feel like I have the ability to say, ‘Nope, I don’t want to work with that person.’” — InStyle, December 2016

21. Jennifer Lopez
“Honestly, find something that you love to do. … Find your passions and pursue them relentlessly and don’t stop. I mean really, I think it’s just about working hard. I always tell my kids — my kids are like, ‘I know you work hard.’ I go, ‘No, I don’t work hard. I work harder than everybody else.’ … Just don’t stop. The people who were not successful are the ones who stopped halfway through, somewhere.” — NPR, December 2018

22. Tracee Ellis Ross
“My mission, I feel, has always been around sharing the beauty, the joy, the power of Black women. And supporting ownership of our own narratives and the expansion of our equity, both on a(n) individual and personal level. In how you invest in yourself and have your own power in your own life and inhabit your own skin with freedom and joy, whatever that means for you. And also how we do that collectively in the world, how we support each other in doing that.” — NPR, June 2020

23. Emma Watson
“There’s a Theodore Roosevelt speech about the importance of being in the arena, whether you fail or you succeed, or you make a complete idiot of yourself, as long as you’re doing the best with what you have, using whatever knowledge you have to bring to the table at that moment. And you continue to keep learning. I think my mistakes have made me much stronger. It’s nice to know that things don’t ultimately break you; that you need to go there to know.” — Interview Magazine, April 2017

24. Mindy Kaling
“Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled. Listen to no one except the two smartest and kindest adults you know, and that doesn’t always mean your parents. If you do that, you will be fine.” — Glamour, August 2015

25. Beyoncé
“I took a chance on myself when I bought my company back. We all have the confidence in us to take chances and bet on ourselves.” — Elle, December 2019

25 Famous Women on Not Settling for Less