Let’s face it: life is full of rules. Sometimes the rules are explicit, like the ones you had in school. How to wear your uniform. How to address your teachers. How to format your homework. Or how not to start three consecutive sentences with the word ‘how.’ Because, let’s face it, it breaks the rules of grammar.
But more often the rules that govern our lives are subtler. They’re the rules about what you’re supposed to do with your life – from what you should study to the kind of person you should marry.
All these rules are meant to help you live a happier life and enjoy harmonious relationships. However, as you look towards the rest of your life you have to be willing to challenge the rules that might otherwise limit what you do with it.
Here are a few rules I’ve heard over the years:
- You must go to college.
- You must never quit.
- You must respect tradition.
- You must respect your parents’ wishes.
Forge Your Own Path, Make Your Own Rules
While these rules can provide useful guides when making decisions, if you’re at a cross-roads, or just not particularly enthused about the direction you’re headed, it may pay to take a step back and look at where you may inadvertently be holding yourself hostage to the rules and norms of your family or friends. Making your own rules isn’t about belittling those of others. It’s simply deciding to live life on your own terms. To help you do that, here are a few rules to try on for size.
Set your own course
Just because you’re a fourth generation doctor, lawyer or farmer, doesn’t set your destiny in stone. And just because everyone in your family went to university does not mean it’s the best path for you. Just as there is no one right set of rules for everyone, there is no one right path for you.
Do your homework but trust your intuition
When it comes to the big decision in life, sometimes you have to stop all the analysis and just ask yourself what feels right for you. If a certain path feels right, then it probably is. Sure, do your research, talk to people and get advice. But in the end, go with your gut and trust your intuition – it rarely lies and can be a valuable compass as you go through life.
Don’t try to make the perfect decision.
Many young people put a lot of unnecessary pressure on themselves because they feel they have to make the perfect decision – whether on the course they sign up for or the job they take. However, no decision is ever wrong if you ultimately learn and grow from it. So just make the best decision you can with the information you have.
I left my parents’ farm to get a business marketing degree right out of high school; it sounded sort of glamorous at the time. Afterward, I began my corporate career before deciding in my late 20’s to return to college and study psychology. While I didn’t end up pursuing the path I initially embarked upon, the experience and knowledge I gained starting out in business has been invaluable to the work I do now.
Let no-one ‘Should’ on you (yourself included)
Our “shoulds” are a mixture of the rules, expectations and values of our social groups. Whenever you hear yourself or someone else use the term ‘should,’ replace it with ‘could’ and add in another option that appeals to you more. (For instance, I could go to university or I could take a gap year to travel). It removes the judgment that one option is inherently better or more right than the other.
Expect miss-steps but never let a failure define you
Richard Branson says, “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” Likewise, to expect that you will succeed first time around on everything you try is a recipe for disappointment. Embrace a spirit of adventure as you set out, be open to giving something a go and if it doesn’t work out, learn the lessons and move on.
Start small; build your bravery in increments
It takes courage to resist the pressure to comply with the expectations others have for you. It takes even more courage to break the rules for establishing a career or building a business. Start by breaking some small rules and build from there. Make your own plans. Express your own style. Speak your own thoughts. Build your own life and when other people’s rules aren’t working for you, make your own.
As much as people around you may want you to succeed, no one else but you is responsible for your success. Do what it takes to achieve it. Sometimes that will take bending a few rules; other times it will mean breaking them entirely.
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