serene ambition™

transforming the culture of aging


Posted by Jim Selman on 10/5/06

I spent a good chunk of my life learning to be reasonable. In business, the mantra for any proposal was always: “Is it practical?” It seemed to me that reasonableness (and its sister practicality) were virtues. People who were unreasonable or impractical seemed to be exceptions—they came across as flaky, dangerous, occasionally lucky, unpredictable, disconnected, loose canons and, above all, they weren’t team players. When I turned 50, I came upon a quotation by George Bernard Shaw that hit me between the eyes and totally changed my approach to life and, in particular, my future.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him …. The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself …. All progress depends on the unreasonable man.

It was always obvious to me that the key to anything is action and that action is mostly a function of commitment. Until I got this quotation, however, it never occurred to me that I could choose to commit to something that was either reasonable or unreasonable, either practical or impractical. Only committing to what is reasonable, practical or feasible means that, by definition, I am committing to more of the same. What is reasonable is a product of social convention and historical experience—it defines the proverbial ‘box’ and, moreover, any breakthrough I could think of, whether personal or collective, only happened when someone committed to something that was unreasonable.

There’s a long philosophical and historical reason for this kind of ‘reasonableness’ thinking. But at the end of the day it keeps us locked in a ‘control and predict’ frame of reference that blinds us to any other possibilities. Being reasonable traps us in a feedback loop: making our future life look reasonable (like our past) means we must keep trying to predict the future so we can control outcomes… so that we end up with more of what we have already had. An exercise in futility if ever there was…life goes on regardless of our efforts to control it.

When it comes to post-retirement planning and thinking, most of us gravitate towards a very reasonable approach. Whether we are talking with our peers or service providers about new careers, leisure, relationships or creative expression, we get the same kind of analytical counseling that we got in our corporate or organizational life…a series of questions that focuses on what we are good at, what we like, what we need, and on and on. The product of this kind of thinking is rational, safe, more or less predictable, and, above all, reasonable decisions that will guarantee our retirement will look very similar to our past.

I propose that anyone contemplating the future after retirement (or anytime really) should start from the position of “If anything were possible” and then ask themselves the following questions:

  • Since the future is up to each of us as a function of our commitments and actions, are my commitments going to define the circumstances in my life or is my reasonable interpretation of what is and isn’t possible going to determine my commitments?
  • If I could BE any way I wished in the future, who would I BE?
  • What would I have accomplished?
  • What is my vision for the rest of my life?
  • Is it possible to have the second half of my life be richer, happier, healthier, more loving and more creative than any other period of my life?
  • Can I be more valued and make a bigger contribution than I have ever imagined?

And so it goes. It is unreasonable perhaps, but I would rather live the rest of my life in an attempt to fulfill or manifest an unreasonable vision and fail, than spend the next 30 years maintaining and replaying the same reasonable, practical and self-limiting conversations that I have had in the past. These weren’t wrong at the time and they aren’t wrong now. Their rightness/wrongness isn’t the issue. The issue is who am I now and who will I be in the coming years.

© 2006 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.


One Response to “Unreasonableness”

  1. Shae said

    When we’re young kids, we’re constantly asking everyone “Why?”. When we’re teenagers, we ask “Why not?” Then adulthood and responsibility arrives, and we get caught up in conforming, fitting in to what’s expected of us, what we think will make us successful in life. So we focus on answering the ‘Why’ questions with reasons and totally forget about the ‘Why nots’.

    There’s a lot to be said for reason, but even more for looking beyond the socially acceptable, the correct, the rational. In the beyond lies our creativity, our inspiration, our hope for living a life that is more than predictable. Being unreasonable, we can dance, laugh and sing–even in the face of adversity, failure, disaster, chaos. At the end of the day, REASON cannot be our reason for being…it certainly isn’t the fullest expression of our humanity.

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