Your Relationship With Unreasonable Standards

Here’s a simple rule of thumb that I learned at the start of the pandemic:

If you think you’re being reasonably cautious, you’re probably taking on too much risk. If you think you’re being unreasonably cautious, you’re probably doing it right.

This made sense to me, so I aimed to keep my COVID-prevention standards higher than I thought was reasonable. I sought to keep them at a level that made me wonder if I was overdoing it.

Since the start of the pandemic, Rachelle and I haven’t had friends or family over, we stopped doing in-person meetups, and we stopped all travel. We have groceries delivered, or we shop infrequently at late hours when stores are mostly empty. We wash our hands many times per day, including after handling any packages that have been delivered. We wear masks of course. We’ve been very hermit-like and cautious. We began shifting our lifestyles sooner than required. I also began writing blog posts in early March to warn people about what was predictably coming.

Some people wrote to me to say that I was being unreasonably alarmist. Good, I thought. That’s an indication I’m heading in the right direction. Later some people shared that my writings encouraged them to alter their behaviors in some specific situations, including in ways that may have saved some lives.

Under the circumstances, I think these standards have been reasonable, but it sometimes felt unreasonable, and sometimes other people said it was unreasonable. In this case this suggests that maybe it’s an adequate standard, not an excessive one.

In the USA we’re in the midst of the biggest surge of reported infections since this started, now around 200-250K new ones per day. My home state of Nevada just reported 3733 infections in one day, its biggest single day by far and about 10X what we were seeing during the summer. I know someone who is one of those 3733; he and I spoke at some events together in previous years. Now he’s very sick.

When people get diagnosed with COVID, they may seem surprised because they felt that their prevention standards were reasonable. They had already tightened up, It seems unfair that this wasn’t enough to prevent infection.

This strikes me as a pattern we see in so many other areas of life as well.

How could I get diabetes, heart disease, or cancer? I was eating a reasonable diet, surely better than most.

How could I be getting laid off? I’m one of the better employees.

How could my spouse be leaving? Our marriage was reasonably good.

If the reasonable standard is a little bit above average, you will probably still succumb to a major lifestyle disease like cancer or heart disease. You could still be laid off. Your partner could still leave.

In many areas of life, being above average isn’t a very good standard results-wise.

A reasonable standard for COVID prevention will probably seem unreasonably strict. A lot of people are being sloppy while thinking they’re doing just fine. A million people in the USA are being diagnosed with COVID infections every 4-5 days. How many of them thought that their prevention standards were reasonable?

Diet is one area where I wouldn’t want to go anywhere near the standards that other people consider reasonable. Eating what other people consider reasonably healthy means having a ridiculously low standard that invites physical, mental, and emotional degradation. It means living as a shadow of one’s true self, always hampered by unseen layers of mental and emotional sludge.

My relationship with Rachelle seems unreasonably good. Sometimes I feel like we’re unfairly blessed to have found each other. But then I wonder where I learned my old standard for comparison. I learned it from other relationships I’ve seen, including relationships that people felt were okay or pretty good. But given the status of most relationships, is it good enough to have a reasonably good relationship?

If your relationship seems unreasonably good, maybe you’re just doing it right. Perhaps it only seems special because the backdrop of society has a low baseline for what it considers decent. Lots of movies tell us how little compatibility is needed for a couple to fall in love and live happily ever after.

So perhaps I just have a reasonable relationship, and it only seems unreasonably good because I broke away from society’s weak standards for what’s “good enough.” I found someone that I really enjoy spending time with and who enjoys and appreciates me as much as I enjoy her. Is it reasonable or unreasonable to love spending time with your spouse? Even under months of relative isolation together, we still love and enjoy spending lots of time together.

Looking back on my life, I can see that when I broke away from what society taught me was reasonable, and I stepped into the unreasonable, I had a tremendous growth experience. This doesn’t always mean that my standards were higher, but they were different. Sometimes my choices would be labeled as weird or reckless, but in retrospect I was just doing what made sense under the circumstances.

It takes time to get used to a standard that people may find strange or unreasonable. Is it reasonable or unreasonable that I haven’t had a job in more than 28 years? That just seems like a normal and sensible way to live. Why would I want a boss telling me what to do each day? Why would I want someone else assigning me work? It seems reasonable to choose my own projects. But to other people this standard somehow seems unreasonable or odd.

Was it really unreasonable to observe during the early days of the Web in the mid-1990s that there was a pathway to generating income online? Was it unreasonable to conclude that that could be a more interesting and rewarding long-term investment than seeking traditional employment? That wasn’t unreasonable at all. It was actually quite a reasonable decision to make. Lots of people made similar decisions back then.

To follow your own path with a heart and to get better results than you otherwise would, you have to be willing to do what other people think is strange or unreasonable. Since some of society’s rules about reasonableness have surely infected your own thinking as well this means that you also have to sometimes do what you perceive to be unreasonable. You have to challenge your assessments of what’s really reasonable and right for you.

You may tell yourself that a certain path is reasonable, but how do you really feel about it on the inside? Do you think it might be an intelligent bet?

Do you ever feel that your job is dreadfully boring? Do you ever daydream about doing something more purposeful? Does doing purposeful and meaningful work seem reasonable to you? Or it that just a pipe dream? Of course it’s reasonable.

Do you ever wonder what it would be like to be in a very loving, caring, affection, and rewarding relationship with a partner who loves and appreciates you too? If you told people what kind of relationship you really wanted, would they accuse you of being unreasonable? It’s actually very reasonable to want and to experience such a relationship. Why should you settle for less?

Consider this: If no one is accusing you of being unreasonable, you’re doing the game of life all wrong.

Standards that may seem unreasonable to other people can yield wonderful results.

I wouldn’t have the business, diet, lifestyle, relationship, or creative flow that I have now if I wasn’t willing to step into unreasonable territory again and again. This includes doing what I previously considered unreasonable too. I had to purge socially conditioned standards of reasonableness and unreasonableness from my thinking, so I could make more intelligent decisions. I invite you to challenge your own thinking here as well, so you can do what’s intelligent for you, regardless of how unreasonable it may seem.

Can you get yourself to do what seems unreasonable? Can you explore that space? That space is where so many juicy opportunities exist, just waiting for you to tap them.

Are your COVID-prevention efforts intelligent under the circumstances? Could you do more? Would raising your standards be intelligent, or would it really be excessive? What if your higher standards prevent just one more death? Imagine someone getting to live a significantly longer life because you took on a bit more inconvenience for several months.

Where else could you elevate your standards? Where else could you dance with the unreasonable?

Note that while some people will accuse you of going too far, you’ll also attract and encounter people who see the value in what you’re doing, and they’ll appreciate you for it. Do you want more people like this in your life? Step into unreasonable space, and they’ll show up.

Here’s another way to frame this: You have a relationship with whatever you (initially) consider to be unreasonable. What’s the nature of this relationship? Will you always shun the unreasonable? Will you always reject it?

I prefer to have a different relationship with the unreasonable. I like to notice it and acknowledge its presence. I like to be curious about it and to explore how I really feel about it. I like to poke it and study it, but it often feels like it’s poking and studying me. Then I may enjoy dating it or dancing with it, even as it continues to tease and seduce me. And if I like it, I may eventually enjoy a long-term, committed relationship with it.

It seems reasonable to go through these phases slowly and gradually. So there’s also the relationship with speed to consider. For certain opportunities, it’s riskier to move too slowly, and it’s more intelligent to go at a pacing that feels unreasonably fast.

How do you feel about your current calibration here? Do you see room for improvement in your relationship with the unreasonable? A good place to start is to simply decide that it’s time to upgrade this relationship. Maybe you’d benefit by developing an unreasonably good relationship with the unreasonable. 😉