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After a long flight over the Atlantic, the voice over the intercom said we’d started our final descent.  Then came the standard instructions to prepare for landing.

Afterwards, the stewardess came to me and asked, “You slept through dinner.  Would you like me to bring it to you now so you can eat it before landing?”

I looked at her, a bit stupefied.  Was this a trick question?  Hadn’t she just told everyone to secure their trays for landing?

I nodded.  She pulled out my tray, covered it with a small tablecloth, and quickly brought me a surprisingly delicious meal.  She imparted no urgency and no one secretly gave me to evil eye for such treatment.

Had she thought of it, she might have added, “Welcome to First Class.”

This scenario highlighted something that I know theoretically, but always need to be reminded of, and I suspect you do too.

Most of “the rules” aren’t rules at all.

They’re suggestions put in place to serve someone else, but the rules don’t necessarily serve you or your goals.  Even a rule couched in safety, like putting everything away before landing, has a lot more wiggle room than those of us normally riding in Economy Class are led to believe.

So every time someone tells you that you can’t pursue a career you love because

  • you don’t have the right degree
  • you don’t have enough experience
  • you’re too young or too old
  • you’re not talented enough
  • you won’t make enough money

Ask yourself these questions: who made these rules and who do they serve?

If the answer to both questions isn’t you, don’t feel obligated to follow them.

Sometimes that means asking for what you want or following the “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” model.

Most of the time though, it’s just a matter of realizing the rules aren’t rules at all.

Still need convincing?  Ask yourself if even one person with similar circumstances has done what you’d like to do.

If so, then you know it’s not a rule.

It’s a challenge.


Ready for a First Class career? Check out my free mini-course on professional rule bending at the No Regrets Career Academy.

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23 Responses to The Imaginary Rules that Bind You

  1. LOVE this post! One of my dad’s favorite expressions – “Rules are for trucks and pedestrians only” – has helped guide many of my life decisions. And if you decide to “break a rule”, it is always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

    I enjoyed this, Jen!

    • LOL. Love your dad’s quote. I could have used that growing up. I think my Dad’s line went something like, “Break my rules and I’ll make your life miserable…” And thus, a military academy for college seemed like a breath of fresh air! So you can see where I have to remind myself of this from time to time…

  2. So true Jen. I found out that most speed “limits” are as they say “suggested”. I have had a speeding ticket cleared by proving that, yes, I was over the posted limit, but I was still driving at a safe speed due to the road conditions. There is a longer story but the judge said they are suggested so it gives us a mental boundary that if you break the rule you are doing it wrong, or in the case of driving, that if you are over the posted limit you are assumed to be driving reckless.

    Not all the rules apply to everyone. I live by the “easier to say sorry than it is to say can I” theory,

    Looking forward to the webinar. Count me in.

    • WOW! What a story. Maybe you should be looking at a career in the law? No, just kidding. Look forward to seeing you at the webinar!

    • On
    • October 16, 2012 at 1:10 pm
    • Carmelo
    • Said...

    Hey Jen … one of my favorite topics! We sometimes (often!) get so constrained by society’s boundaries that we dismiss our own truths and powers.

    Growing up with teachers, parents, rules, taboos, shoulds, etc. we don’t even realize that our thinking is not really our own thinking. It’s the system in which we live that allows us whatever freedoms we think we have.

    Now, I won’t dismiss the fact that western civilizations do have an abundance of freedoms but our “training” has limited our belief in what we can accomplish!

    Oh boy, Jen, you got me started! ha! Well, I won’t go on. I wish you all the best with your upcoming course. I hope it fills fast!

    • I like your point about how culture influences our thinking on rules and how we follow them. Thanks for the well wishes!

  3. How timely this post is. I was just talking with someone about their future yesterday. She was telling me how she needs a “Plan B” as she figures out what she really wants to do considering the obstacles/restrictions (albeit her perspective)facing her moving ahead in her career. I suggested she change her thinking to consider what she is doing right now is “Plan B” and start planning how she was going to reach “Plan A”.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • On
    • October 17, 2012 at 7:30 am
    • Bipin
    • Said...

    Thanks for bringing this up Jen. I do feel that we are so much conditioned growing up. The word impossible itself says I M Possible.
    Anytime we face a challenge, before being too quick at reacting to circumstances, let’s look inward and tap our true self. Understand. Act.
    SMiles from Kathmandu..

    • Yep, every time we see someone do something we’d like to do, the best response is: so it’s possible. Not: I suck because I didn’t do it first. But as I warned in a previous post, we just have to make sure we’re choosing the right challenges.

    • On
    • October 17, 2012 at 11:20 am
    • Barbara
    • Said...

    Excellent advice Jen! I have a reputation for pushing the limits a bit and I’m proud of it. I agree it’s better to ask forgiveness that not try.

    Besides, some people who come up with arbitrary rules just want to feel important. Don’t you think?

    • Well, with a blog title like “Zero to 60″ one HAS to imagine you’ve got a rebellious streak… :)

  4. As one who grew up in Japan and worked in the airline industry, following rules is like breathing. And I’m thinking your Everyday Shiny Bright personality charmed the flight attendant into meal service whilst securing seats for landing!

    On the flip side, I had rebellious parents, so I’m well-versed in the art of discerning the value of rules..Dad left a big-deal corporate job to create his own business. We tightened our belts and everything turned out all right. Mom, a Wimbledon semi-finalist in the 1950s, insisted on continuing her tennis career despite set backs and injuries. And a few years back, she was number one in an international tennis tournament which took place in Turkey.

    Bottom line: Your point about ascertaining who the rules are serving is stellar! And seeing life’s perceived limitations as challenges is gold =)

  5. I taught law school for 20 years. A student speaker at graduation one year said I was the only law professor to ever cite the Pirate Code as authority. This was when Pirates of the Caribbean had come out and the line about the Pirate Code being more like “suggestions” caught my attention. I have never been a great respecter of rules as confining limitations.

    • Oh, I do wish I could have heard that lecture! You’re an extraordinary lawyer, Galen, but I already knew that. :)

  6. It was Thomas Edison that said ‘Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.’ I was told not to give up my job and anyway I was way too old to become a blogger. My view was there was no 9 to 5 conditioning that I had to abide by and to actually do a job I’d love about things that I’d love was just too tempting. As all first class travellers know, it’s not the destination it’s the journey that matters so enjoy it.

    • Great point about it being the journey that matters. Couldn’t agree more. And yes, once you realize how much better the journey can be, it’s hard to go back to the “economy” at any price. Some things are worth it!

    • On
    • October 22, 2012 at 11:25 am
    • Sam Eddy
    • Said...

    So true.

    Most rules aren’t rules, they are simply suggestions put in place to serve someone else. Unless you have made them and they serve you, you shouldn’t follow them. Always question your assumptions.

    The more I think about it, the more I believe blindly following rules without questioning them is like catching a disease. Until you take care of yourself and use your drugs, you forever remain handicapped.

    • Assumptions are so insidious! This is the major foundation of my course, helping people question and examine the assumptions that hold them back. 90% of our obstacles are, in my opinion, self-imposed.

        • On
        • October 29, 2012 at 10:14 am
        • Sam Eddy
        • Said...

        Yep, you are right on the money, Jen.

        Majority of our problems are self-imposed. Most times, people look for what to change about their careers or businesses, thinking once they make the change, all of their dreams will come true.

        But they are looking in the wrong place.

        What they need to change? Themselves.

  7. Hi Jen, I really enjoyed this post and the exchange of comments.
    I, like Larry Lewis,left my tenured, pensioned job against the many opinions that I was crazy. But when the “rules” of teaching are no longer in the best interest of the children, I can no longer comply.
    I continue to challenge the status quo and began my own blog. I became ordained as a spiritual-interfaith minister and hope to use the blog, as you use your life, to inspire others to become the best version of themselves and do the work that they are passionate about. To live from your soul and spirit is the foundation of fulfillment.
    Blessings to you for all you do and for your continued and ever-growing success.
    Peace and Love,

    • It’s a good point, Michele. Sometimes the career changes around us. Maybe it used to be a good fit, and now it isn’t. Too often, we cling to what was, as if changing reflects poorly on our initial decision, when in fact it’s the fear of moving on that plagues us. Good for you for listening to the voice in your head and your heart above the others!