Although I am a rule follower from way back, my commitment to rules is not quite as full-on now as it used to be. There was a time when telling me that something was a rule meant that it had my loyalty for eternity. I have even been known to follow unwritten rules, simply because I thought that they should exist. To be honest, I still do that sometimes; my colleagues giggle that the grass at work doesn’t even have a “Don’t walk on the grass” sign on it, and yet I always manage to feel as though I am letting society down if we even talk about walking on it!
Recently, as I was reflecting on life, the universe and the grass at work, I started thinking: What is it that has us following the rules? I am not talking about the laws of society or rules that are aimed at preventing others from being at risk. We need rules and laws in society in order to achieve a certain level of order. What I am talking about are the rules that we place on ourselves, the rules that are considered the norms in our society, the rules that come from our culture, the rules that are placed on us that we follow although we don’t know necessarily why. What is it that we don’t walk on the grass (with or without a sign saying not to do so)?
As I reflected on this, I realised that, in the past, my rule following came largely from fear: I will get into trouble if I don’t follow the rules. I wanted to “do the right thing”, and so I followed rules to the letter, becoming anxious if something prevented me from doing so, or if I hadn’t understood the rules correctly. Seriously, at my rule following peak, I even considered recipes as rules. If a recipe asked for 250g of butter, then I would meticulously measure out 250g of butter; 249g or 251g would simply be wrong!
Since embarking on my journey from self-doubt to being enough, my assessment is that the rules worry me less. I think I am more at peace with my place in life, and so I am more willing to forgive myself if I make a decision about the rules that doesn’t work for me. I have the curiosity to ask myself why the rules exist and what I can achieve with or without following them. I am also willing to assess the risk of breaking the rules.
I am not talking about blatantly and obnoxiously refusing to follow the laws of society. However, if I am going to be in row 16 on a plane and I end up in the queue for rows 1-15, I won’t beat myself up about it. If I feel that there is a “rule” at school that every child in the class must be invited to a birthday party, regardless of how they interact with my own child, I will question it and ask myself what the best approach is for our family. If I have been interpreting that, as the only adult female in the house, I must keep the house clean, then I will ask myself why I am following that rule and consider changing my commitment to the rule.
There is a saying that rules are made to be broken. My past loyalty to rules hasn’t quite disappeared enough for me to fully agree with that, particularly not in writing in a blog post. However, my assessment is that there is a certain amount of freedom in understanding the rules that we are applying to ourselves and then asking “For the sake of what am I following this rule”.
Points to Ponder…
- Do you always live by the rules? How does this serve you?
- What way of being sits behind your approach to following rules? How does this serve you?
Who am I?
I am a leadership and life coach, available for coaching and facilitation services. If you feel that it would be useful to have a conversation with me, please feel free to view my services on the Leading and Being website.