“I think where I am having trouble is that I don’t play by the rules,” Jane* said to me last week.
“Congratulations,” I responded. “Which rules are those?”
I’ve been scolded for not “playing by the rules” myself, so I get it. And like Jane, I used to think this was a problem.
Not playing by the rules was not at all what was causing Jane trouble. The problem was that she wasn’t defining the rules that she was willing to play by.
In fact, a lot of what happens in personal and professional growth is about examining and understanding our rules.
Designing your life, creating work that excites you, and crafting your own work-life blend all require you to pay attention and make conscious decisions about which rules you are following and which you’re not. It’s also about making up (and breaking) your own rules where necessary.
Rules can be incredibly empowering.
They can also be stifling. The choice is yours.
Rules have an important place in our lives, in our work and in our communities. They aren’t really optional, unless chaos is what you’re looking to create. And yet, we tend to romanticize this idea of “breaking the rules.”
As if there were one set.
The reality is a bit more complicated. You actually get a fair amount of choice when it comes to which rules you’re playing by.
When you’re aching for a change, but not making it, whose rules are you following?
When you’re stepping up to a leadership role, what rules are you making for yourself?
When you are choosing work environments, making career choices, meeting new partners, what rules have you set up about what’s a fit and what’s not?
Knowing your rules naturally simplifies life, reduces stress and eases stuck-ness.
It creates more clarity, more balance, more fulfillment, more inspired action.
If you suspect your rules need a little rewriting, here are five places to start looking:
Boundaries. A boundary is, at its heart, a rule you are making about what is acceptable to you. Setting appropriate boundaries can be the biggest rules stumbling block for many of us. It’s not always easy, even when you know that they are needed. But these are rules that only you can make.
Personal standards. One of my former clients will not sacrifice her exercise time. She is a person who exercises, no matter what. That’s her personal standard— a nonnegotiable rule that has become second nature to who she is. When you decide to pay attention and actively choose your standards, it elevates your game in all areas of life.
Priorities. Is it a priority for you to be present for your family? To meet the goals you set out for the year? To maintain sanity and peace in your schedule? Sometimes, priorities conflict, and this is an excellent place to look at what rules you’re making about what’s truly important to you. Not everything can be—or should be—a priority. And priorities change.
Assumptions and beliefs. Blindly following rules you did not make, or agree to, usually means assumptions are being made about what the rules actually are, or which ones apply. You might not have given much thought to these assumptions, and they may be driven by another desire – to fit in, to not miss out, to make partner, to grow your business. If you’re operating in a space where the rules feel uncomfortable, check out what you believe about those rules. Is it true?
Energy. Just this morning, I spoke with a client who keeps what most of us would consider a very tough schedule. He also plays by the rule that he is responsible for the energy he brings into the day. His mantra? “If I believe it to be a good day, then it’s a good day.” Energy management is, in fact, a series of rules you make about how you manage our overall well-being. Or not.
Your turn: What are the rules you’re playing by? Are they getting you the results you want?
Photo credit: Rules for the Teacher 2 via photopin * Name changed for confidentiality.