Breaking up with bad rules

Some rules just don’t make sense.

I recently sat on a panel with a woman about this exact topic, and she was once asked to stop wearing jewelry that made noise because it was distracting. And I have a brilliant client—an Ivy-League educated lawyer—who was encouraged to change her hair and wear glasses at her firm in order to look older.

I also think about the rules I’ve imposed on myself without realizing it. I used to be nervous about pivoting in my business, making changes that might look contradictory to things I’d done before. Would I seem flaky or indecisive? And I once believed that I might be too old to add value on social media, so I avoided posting what I considered to be “too much.”

It’s easy to see that the logic of these rules just doesn’t hold up.

Breaking up with bad rules takes considerable effort, especially if they’ve become habits we’ve never called into question. But on the other side of those bad rules is freedom. Freedom to decide for yourself what works and what doesn’t. Freedom to find routines and boundaries that don’t stymie your joy and progress. Freedom to evolve.

So let’s take a look at a few ways to identify unnecessary (or even damaging) rules—and what to do about it.

“…but I could never do that.”

Have you ever felt inspired by someone, and then felt yourself saying, “but I could never do that?” Bad rules often come from a place of fear. Challenge that assumption. What if you did do that? What’s the first step you could take?

In the case of my social media anxiety, I simply and slowly began to break my own rule. I posted more. I took in inspiration from other coaches and let it motivate me to try a video here, an IGTV episode there. I’ve gotten great feedback, and I feel much more comfortable sharing in those spaces now.

What’s your gut saying?

I talk a lot about following our intuition, our inner knowing that tells us when something is right or wrong. It comes in several forms, many of them physical. Perhaps you’ve noticed yourself feeling a little sick or anxious on your drive to work. Or maybe you’re having trouble sleeping, and you don’t know why. Is that your gut telling you it’s time for a change?

I knew in my gut when it was time to make some changes in my business strategy. I had evolved as a person, and I wanted the freedom to change my mind about my work, too. So despite my crappy rule that I should stick to the “old ways” to avoid scrutiny, I made some edits. And my business is the better for it.

Consider the rule-maker.

If you didn’t create the rule, think about the person or group that did. What place is it coming from? Envy? Fear? A desire for control? If you can pinpoint a misguided source for the rule, perhaps you’ll feel better about breaking it.  

In the examples I mentioned above, the rule makers weren’t women. And in both cases, the rules gave those women pause. What did hairstyle have to do with the work of an Ivy League-educated lawyer? Nothing. And what did jewelry have to do with the job performance of the other? Again, nothing.

I particularly loved the story of the woman who was told not to wear loud jewelry. She went on to start her own business with another woman, who finds that wearing jewelry that jingles gives her a confidence boost, so she does it a lot.

Now get out there and break some rules.

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