Moving to Athens last year brought with it a series of decisions. Are these clothes, dishes, utensils worth packing into our tiny Prius, or should we donate them? What kind of bed sheets should we buy? What food do we want to eat and where should we buy the ingredients? Are we one, two, or three-ply people? It can be exhausting to make these seemingly simple decisions, but in the end we worked it out and found happy mediums. The Prius is small, so we donated a lot; we got organic linen sheets that I was skeptical of at first but now love; we shop at Trader Joe’s; we’re absolutely three-ply people.

In general, I veer toward whatever decision requires the least amount of energy and money, which is why I slept in a Big Agnes sleeping bag for eight months and ate mostly beans and ramen for a period of my life. In retrospect, though, I definitely could have been more comfortable with a decent set of sheets and a comforter, and my gut might have thanked me for some fresh greens and a more complex meal every now and then. Maybe some standards are worth upholding when you can.

Yet, I think it does us good as people to loosen up our tight grip on standards every once in a while. The higher your standards and the more fastidiously you hold to them, the more prone you become to believing you’re better than other people. For example, I’m a big sucker for all things Patagonia. I love their lifetime warranty and sustainable sourcing of materials, and their customer service is unmatched. Their brand tells a luring story, and it’s got me hooked. Sometimes, though, I’m a little cautious wearing their stuff, because I know it can portray an image of the worst kind of environmentalism—one that’s pretentious, self-righteous, and judgemental. I think if I only wore Patagonia clothes I might turn into that kind of environmentalist, always thinking I’m making more of an effort than others to live sustainably. 

The key to upholding your standards, but yet not getting sucked into an air of superiority, is to find balance. Try something new, or do something you love, that goes against the image of the subculture you might typically portray. Reset the image you hold of yourself a little bit by embracing that part of you that contradicts your outward image. Opportunities will present themselves if you stay open to the idea.

For me, an opportunity to try something new came in the form of a Waffle House breakfast. In all my twenty-seven years of existence I’d never been to a Waffle House. Without ever stepping foot inside, I had built up the idea that it was a cheap, grungy fast food place. But when I sat down at the booth I felt like I could have been back at a breakfast diner in my hometown. The food was delicious, the atmosphere was bright, and I had a great time. Actually it was cheap, but all my other assumptions had been way off. Aside from the hashbrowns, the best part of that breakfast was the reminder that expectations can be so distant from reality.

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