Do You Follow the Rules or Break Them?


Break the rules!

I’ve never really liked the phrase, “rules are meant to be broken”. Why bother having any at all if everyone is just going to ignore them? I know what it’s implying though. Sometimes it’s better to let go of what you’ve been told and just see what happens.

In fact, I think that if I could go back in time and deliver one message to my younger self it would probably be about breaking the rules. I would make sure my younger self realized that not all rules are equal. Some rules can and should be broken.

The Good Side of Rules

I really don’t have any big problem with most rules. They are there for a reason. If everyone broke the rule on what light to drive through on an intersection than we would have chaos and a lot more accidents. This is one rule obviously no one should break.

Similarly, many laws are there for a reason. Theft and violence are things that we have to control or else we’d have people going around beating others up for their money. No one wants that.

The Bad Side of Rules

My problem lies when people arbitrarily put rules on themselves that they really don’t need to follow. Many people seem to create a lot of unnecessary rules to guide their behavior and direction in life. Most of the time it seems as if they think there is a general accepted guideline for how you’re suppose to live. And people follow them without question.

For example there are many people who feel they have to get a job working in an office somewhere after they graduate from college. This is something I personally felt enormous pressure to do. And I’ve known many others who have felt the same way. Then there are those who seem to think that they need to buy a large house in the suburbs so they can fill it with a lot of stuff.

Break Arbitrary Rules

I know now that I don’t have to do any of those things. I can live in an apartment for the rest of my life and never work in an office again. I have the confidence and self-belief to realize that there really isn’t any particular path I have to follow. And because of this, I feel I have more control over what I do and experience than at any other time before in my life.

I can see in others how little they’ve come to this realization though. I can’t count how many times I’ve told someone about my experiences and all they could muster up in reply was how “they could never do something like that”. When I try to ask them why, they just shrug their shoulders and say they just can‘t.

I understand that in many cases it could just be fear or monetary difficulties holding them back. However, fear or money don’t seem likely reasons in other instances. For example, I knew many people in college who majored in engineering simply because they felt it was the best path to getting a good job and a nice house after graduation. In that sense, they were correct. All of them went on to good-paying jobs and nice houses.

However, a large portion of these people hated engineering. Their only reason for going in was because they felt they had to. Doing anything else would have gone against rules they felt were there. Instead of setting their own paths, they did what they felt they should do. Years later, they would be playing catch-up to make up for their mistakes. In cases such as this, it is people conforming to what they think is expected of them that seems to be their main drive.

Live Your Life the Way You Want to

One of the most dreadful consequences of doing things simply because you think you should be doing them is how limiting it all can be. My engineering friends felt pressured into choosing their particular major. If they had become engineers because it was their passion, then things would have been different for them. But they went in just to follow what they saw as the rules.

These rules are unnecessarily restrictive. And I think it’s those life-limiting types you should ignore. When you follow them, you’re just limiting how far and what direction you can go in life. This is not a good way to live.

In the end it is all about following your dreams no matter what everyone else says or thinks. Only you can make you happy. And if you can’t get yourself to question all those arbitrary rules, you just might end up getting left behind by those willing to break them.
photo credit: Ed.ward

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  1. Steve,
    I hold the same beliefs about rules as you do. I don’t believe that life is a one size fits all model. We can feel intuitively what is right for us and what isn’t.

    • Life really isn’t a one size fits all model. I know that once I started to feel what was right for me, I became much happier and relaxed. It’s all about listening to yourself.

  2. Word!!!

  3. I’m with you on the not buying a house thing. I had a conversation with my friend a couple of months ago about a trip I’m planning. She’s like, I don’t understand how you can do that. I said well it’s easy – you just spent your money on remodeling your bathroom, I live in a box and I’m spending my money on Costa Rica.

    • I’ve had similar conversations. I was asked how I could afford to travel to all the countries I go to and pretty much said things similar to what you did about making priorities on spending.

      By the way, you’ll love Costa Rica. I had a blast when I was there.

  4. Speaking of intersection, I remember this weird phenomenon in Pati, are really small town of Central Java. The traffic is also far from busy. From around midnight to dawn, people stop at green lights, just because they know that people always run through red lights. Hahahaha… now that’s breaking rules to make new ones.

    • That’s crazy how they just accept something like that as normal. The attitudes about street lights in Phnom Penh in Cambodia are similar. Whenever I got on the back of a motorbike to go somewhere, they’d just run red lights all the time. It got me close to a few accidents. This is one rule I wished they had followed.

  5. Only you can make you happy.

    This is something I live by. Lois loves for Lois, that’s what I always think. It may seem selfish. But in the end, if you give up your happiness for others, you’ll just end up living a miserable life. Who would want to be around someone like that?

    Thanks for the reminder Steve!

    • Great point. If you give up your own happiness for others, no one will be there to make up for it. I know that in some cases you have to make sacrifices for loved ones. But you should look out for your own happiness as much as possible. And you’re right, I don’t think I’d want to be around someone who gave up their happiness and lived miserably because of it.

  6. i try to understand the rules and break them if necessary in order to achieve a certain goal :-) although it doesnt apply to all of my activities… :-)

    • It doesn’t apply to all of my activities either. But it’s good to know that you have the option so you can break them if you want to.

  7. I’m more of a breaker than a follower. I think it’s not healthy for everyone to follow every rule all the time. We might all become automotans if we did. Your example about so many people becoming engineers is excellent. It is safe and it’s what a lot of parents want their kids to be, but it might be a career they have to give up in the future because they followed everyone else’s path to get there and now they’re unhappy and unfulfilled. Finding your own path is difficult, but I think you learn a lot that you need to know about yourself en route.

    • Finding your own path can be difficult. But often, it’s necessary to find something fulfilling. You’re right about parents sometimes pushing kids to do something they don’t want to do. I knew a girl once who graduated with a bachelors degree in business and also got an MBA. However, she hated it and only did it because her parents forced her. The last I heard, she was looking into other career options because she couldn’t stand the one she was forced to go into.

  8. I’m not sure that people try to ignore rules… but rather by breaking them you are recognizing them. To ignore something isn’t necessarily the same as break. When you break something, you are doing something far more aggressive than just ignoring.

    That said, I follow rules, I ignore rules, and sometimes I break them. But realistically, most of the time I probably just follow them or create my own.

  9. Breaking rules that can actually benefit others is a great thing to do. If the rule doesn’t harm anyone in any way, then it should be fine to break (within reason).

  10. I definitely am a rule follower. I create rules when there aren’t any b/c I need structure that badly. After all, I’m the only one that has managed to make drinking beer work! But I like knowing what to expect and what is expected of me. It makes sense to me.

  11. I also follow rules most of the time, but if I can bend them, I’ll bend them to their maximum points as life is too short to be too stringent.

  12. I agree with you completely about rules. I’d say I follow the rules for the most part, but I try not to set rules for how I should live my life. I plan on traveling the world right after I graduate college. I’m not going to let the pressure of having a job hold me back. Your blog is great and I’ll be checking back here a lot, it’s very inspiring! Please check out my blog sometime, Thanks!

  13. very nice last line there. it’s easy to get caught up in wanting things; i should know. we often put value on the things we can buy as achievements. meawhile we’re miserable with our jobs and lives overall.

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