Rules come in all shapes and sizes. Spoken rules, unspoken rules, passive-aggressive signage at the public pool. They’re usually there for a reason, but many of them are not as indisputable as you’ve been led to believe. For most of my life, I was big on following all of the rules. But in the past few years, I started noticing that some of the unspoken, non-legally-enforceable ones were holding me back more than they were helping me. And that my following them wasn’t really helping anybody else, either. So I broke a few. And what do you know? I’ve actually achieved more happiness and success since I stopped being such a stickler for doing stuff the way most people think it “should” be done.
It started with little things, like skipping the weekly marketing meetings at my last job as a book editor. After a few years of getting up an extra hour early on Thursdays just to sit in a room while people recited updates that were unrelated to me getting my work done, I decided enough was enough. If one of my projects was on the agenda (once every five or six weeks), of course I’d make the effort. Otherwise, I’d spend that hour catching forty additional glorious winks.
I’d be doing unto others exactly like I’d want them to do unto me, i.e., not getting up an extra hour early for the privilege of packing into a too-small conference room together to watch my lips move just because everyone else is doing it. My absence wouldn’t be hurting anyone, I reasoned, and I certainly wouldn’t miss the low-level fug of coffee breath, the pissing matches among my colleagues or the occasional tray of picked-over bagels. Furthermore, who would really miss me?
As it turned out, nobody except one stickler-for-the-rules coworker who pestered me every Thursday when he spied me rolling into the office at my usual 10 a.m. (Okay, 10:15.) “Where were you?” this fellow would ask. “Do you think this meeting is optional?” He was joking — sort of. He knew the marketing meeting wasn’t mandatory for non-marketing staff, but he really felt like we (the editorial staff) should be there, and that if he had to follow the rules, so should I.