Melissa Llarena
Creative Enlightenment
8 min readMay 27, 2021

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Let’s Explore The Difference Between Rules And Suggestions Because This Can Make Your Daily Life Way More Fun

My grade school-aged sons plan to make their own rules when they turn eighteen. It’ll be video game playing all day on someone’s sofa (because it won’t be mine). When their eyes turn red they will take a break to eat ice cream and then the routine will repeat.

In their rulebook, they would get to overstay their welcome in every electronics store with Super Mario controllers and play; it’s an Aussie thing. This is their ideal world. Seems that someone told them the world is their oyster and they were listening.

So what about us rule-makers? How much wiggle-room is there in the rules by which we live our lives? Are we making up our own rules or is there someone else orchestrating our decisions and daily lives? Where’s my wizard? Sometimes it seems like some invisible hand is creating or lifting rules. Yet, I think it’s just us pulling our own puppet strings.

Technically, I’m a goody-two-shoes by some standards. Never been jailed. Color within the lines and even embolden those lines. My requests tend to be within a range of “fair” I suppose. You tell me: is asking for a hotel refund fair when rooms are gross dust storms? I think so. Either way, I’m not a full-blown renegade yet maybe in another decade. Never say never. Yet, even I have picked up on the times when some rules were actually undercover processes put in place by grouchy or time-sensitive people. Take off the table: rules intended to guide our moral judgment or the ones you get fined for not following. I’m not discussing those rules.

Instead, consider these:

Imagine you hold steadfast to a rule that all dishes must be dried with a kitchen towel (read: tea towel in Aussie) at night before the “kitchen is closed”? This one rule could wreak havoc on a marriage. Turns out this is a suggestion when you think about it but for me, I live and die by it.

Or what if you have a consistent rule that a veggie-free dinner has to be eaten and sugar-filled dessert vilified? Aren’t these rules worth breaking or weighing against the mental angst that comes with making others follow them? Just saying?

Yet, here is what I’ve found.

Some of these “suggestions” come with the territory or better put: are expected given how you think about yourself. You are a mom. You will vilify sugar because you are a healthy mom not one of those other moms. You are an MBA. You will seek corporate executive gigs not even own nor operate a blue-collar business like a gym. Upon deeper analysis, it turns out this rule thing is a suggestion even at the individual level. Some people choose to believe these identity-based rules and others call BS on them. Yet, let me ask you when was the last time you considered if your rules were worthwhile or stealing the fun out of your life? Spring cleaning is great for closets but what about for the file folder chests we all keep in our minds filled with rules for this and that? My file folder is cream and so are my manila file folders. Are you as cool as me? I’m being cheeky. Did you smile?

So what if this was one way you can help yourself not feel so “dictatorish?” Yes, I broke a grammar rule.

What if all you had to do was experience a day or week without your rulebook? Are you open to being just a little reckless? Just for a day? I tried this and here’s what I got out of this experience. Mom of the year award for starters. My sons returned from school one day and they stumbled into their Willy Wonky factory by MY standards. I bought them Kit Kats. Potato chips fried ones not baked and no they don’t sell Sun Chips in Aussie so I went with the worse offenders. I know that some undigestible fat was in the bag. Plus, I got them frivolous art and crafts kits that I knew would be in the trash the same day because there were SO one-time-use. And here’s the kicker, my three sons were able to both eat and play BEFORE dinner. Usually, I’m an ace when it comes to the carrot stick approach to eating but this day I tossed out those rules. Was I a neglectful mom? Seriously, no! It did lighten up my mood, evening, and I got a lot of thank you’s. Another way you could slice this chocolate cake is that I decided for that afternoon to not care about a handful of my own house rules. So what was my verdict around my own rules: those rules are bendable sometimes and if I need a good night this rule can be reimagined for a night. It’ll be one of those “in an emergency” options. Now….

Not all rule-breaking has to lead to sugar crashes. The same concept can do you some good too.

It’s been two years since I changed one of my own rules from going to the gym three times a week to going four times instead. You would have thought I was being personally trained by some backward Mussolini but it was my own inner Mussolini. That tiny dude rules with an iron fist. Cue in Smurf’s Gargamel that silver arm in our 80s cartoons except punishing me by not letting me get fit. He would say: You will NOT go to the gym four times. So I listened. Brilliant move on my part. Can you detect that sarcasm? See how twisted a rule can be? You can have a rule you live by that harms you. Am I the only one who has done this to herself? Turns out, sometimes you have to Marie Kondo your own shit. Pick one day to break a rule just to see if the arguing goes down, your energy goes up, the day feels right. Meanwhile, is it possible that some of the rules you live by today are kinda old? Here’s a geriatric rule I’ve kept: when I lived in my home in Connecticut I would walk lightly. I would tiptoe in my private home so the wood floors wouldn’t creak. In my basement lived no one, not even a grumpy gnome. That rule came from having been being raised in an apartment located directly above a superintendent who was “gnomish.” Seems silly right? However, we all do it. I reckon some of those rules are getting in our own way of living a little or being more of ourselves. Does this make sense or must I stomp my feet obnoxiously to express this point? More fodder….

Here’s what possible when you can decipher between rules and suggestions

DJ Yo Mama wanted to get her DJ skills up. She meant no harm, no foul. The rule was she had to be 25 or younger to participate in a DJ class. Did that stop her? Obviously not, why do think I called her DJ Yo Mama ;). Esther acknowledged the class rules. Yet, she had enough life under her belt by then to be ballsy. She had also faced death in the eyes before so asking if she could join this youth group was easy. Now, I don’t think you need to have had a brush with death to ask if you can play even if you don’t live on the block but I do think you need to practice courageous curiosity. It takes proactively asking questions many times. In life, there won’t always be a designated time to ask your questions. Actually, if you think about it. Q&A portions at the end of talks for example even those are just the speaker’s suggestions. So be courageous and ask if a rule is bendable because oftentimes they just are. Then there are rules that are adhered to so frequently that when they are broken we are just collectively shocked but that’s about it. Those rules too are suggestions for the most part.

First to my mind are the rules that define our beauty standards or even corporate jargon. I see both as exclusivity devices. Yes, it’s important to cut down on time to communicate but the reality is that these codes and norms are also ways to see who will fit in or who will bend in. You can look at any glossy magazine cover and check out the top model. Who do you expect to see in any teen magazine? There are rules about how CoverGirl's look. My podcast guest Katherine Young noticed how these rules excluded reality and hurt girls. There are rules around what are acceptable measurements for teen models. We have grown accustomed to these rules. The crappy part is that when we see unexpected faces on a cover we then seek to make meaning of this “oddity.” Some of us assume we are witnessing a new take on a Dove Campaign. Others see this as a gesture of generosity to these models who couldn’t EVER be in a mainstream campaign. Here’s the point:

There are rules and then there are assumptions. Use your Spidey sense to decipher between the two for you now. For example:

If you ever feel bogged down by a rule

If you ever feel exhausted as a rule enforcer

Either scenario, do this: try living without this rule for one day. Consider who you are in relation to that rule and be unafraid to rewrite or trash your own rules. My belief is that in this world there are rules that are actually suggestions or subjective at best. Rules are open to creative interpretation. Sometimes it just depends with whom you chat and on what day of the week. So then why not take time to play around with the rules in your own life? Some could be damaging and some necessary. It’s important to see which ones are right for you. You could be living in a private home right now where you could be somersaulting every day on your wooden floors and no one would be the wiser! Don’t you want to find out?

P.S. I am writing a book to help us all reawaken our human spirit. If you’d like to follow my personal journey or subscribe to my weekly newsletters then sign-up right here. You’ll gain access to my 75 podcast episodes meant to inspire your creativity, courage, and sense of curiosity PLUS I’ll add fries with that by sending you my 9 tips to feel hopeful, empowered, and limitless on your career + life journey. All of this and more located on the same page. Keep exploring! Life can be fun and filled with wonder even if you alphabetize your spice cabinet or would never tell colleagues you’re addicted to TikTok. I see the inner kid in everyone. You are still magical to me and your dreams should continue to light you up.

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Melissa Llarena
Creative Enlightenment

I coach executives on how to dissect & deliver a perfect #jobinterview @TuckSchool melissa@melissallarena.com Author of №1 #HR interview @Forbes @LinkedIn #mom