“A young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.”
— Oliver Wendell Homes, Sr., American physician and poet
“You’re one of those guys who always plays by the rules, aren’t you?”
I was out with a colleague for lunch and had stopped by the local drugstore to mail a letter. As I pulled into the only empty parking spot, I realized that it was designated handicapped. I immediately backed out and began searching the lot for another available spot.
“You could have parked there,” he said. “You weren’t going to be long.”
The comment chafed and for two reasons: first, rule breakers annoyed me. Second, the comment sounded like a judgment and not in the positive sense. And third, it was true — I was one of those guys. Since childhood, I’d had a compulsion to follow the rules. Moreover, I knew that compulsion was the result of my early programming. As a shy and overly sensitive child growing up in an authoritarian household, following the rules was essential to survival — emotionally, if not physically. I’d done enough soul searching to realize those same early childhood experiences were at the root of my people-pleasing and conflict avoidance tendencies.
I recall in high school, a favourite English teacher telling me, “You got to know the rules before you can break them.” I was confused. After all, I had worked so diligently to learn those rules, I couldn’t imagine breaking them. It was years later that I understood what he’d meant. I also came to realize the advice could apply to more than English — it could also apply to life.
The fact is, sometimes, to succeed at life, you need to break the rules!
Now understand, when I speak of breaking the rules, I’m not suggesting you break the rules of law or society and place yourself or others in jeopardy.
The rules I’m suggesting you break are the self-defeating, limiting, and harmful variety you’ve imposed upon yourself — often the result of poor early programming.
For example, perhaps you’ve created a rule that says you’ll only achieve so much success, that you’re not deserving of happiness or love, or you’ll never move beyond a childhood issue or traumatic experience.
Life-limiting rules of this variety serve only to keep you boxed in and feeling unfulfilled.
Often, these rules are enforced at an unconscious level.
You bring these rules into conscious awareness by raising your level of personal awareness. When you begin to “understand” the limiting rules you’ve applied to your life, you’ll start to see how each has prevented you from realizing your true potential.
These are the rules to break with the consequence being better self-esteem and a happier, more rewarding life.
So, where do you begin?
Acknowledge that what you’ve been doing hasn’t been working. Start out by reading some good books on the subject, chat with friends, speak to a life/self-esteem coach, meditate, attend an empowerment workshop, join your local self-esteem society – the means and methods are endless.
When you think about it, many of the world’s greatest achievements and innovations have been the result of men and women who — despite opposition or consequences — chose to break the rules. Think of the quantum leaps forward in science, medicine, and technology that came only as the result of someone first understanding and then breaking the rules.
American novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne put it this way: “The world owes all its onward impulses to men ill at ease. The happy man inevitably confines himself within ancient limits.”
When it comes to breaking the rules, choose those that hinder your evolution into a confident, empowered, and successful human being. Identify them, understand the purpose they may once have served, then break the rules.
Murray Furher is a self-esteem expert.