Life is full of rules. No matter how old we are, from toddler to adult, we are bombarded by other people and society telling us things that we should and should not do. Rules are made because, at some point in time, someone noticed a societal norm and thought it would be a generally good behavior for everyone to follow.
I have a problem with rules.* The problem is that a lot of rules, most I would argue, are not really important and are now accepted as guidance for “correct” behavior simply because most people follow them.
To be clear, I am using “rules” for a reason. I am not talking about laws. Most of those are good. Please don’t tell someone that The Hum told you it was okay to commit a felony.
I think there are kid rules and grown-up rules. When we are kids, we learn to follow rules and accept what is told to us. Then this behavior is conditioned so we do the same with grown-up rules. And that can have some pretty serious consequences.
Kid rules are those things you were told when you were younger that, at the time, probably didn’t make sense to you and now that you’re older definitely don’t make sense to you.
Things like, “Don’t sit too close to the TV or you’ll go blind.” “You need to practice cursive because you will use it all the time.” And, “You need to do this by hand because you are going to need to know how to do this without a calculator.”
In reality, these rules should read more like this. “You can watch as much TV as you want on a tiny screen six inches from your face and you will not go blind.” “It does not matter at all if you know cursive. Write however the hell you want.” And, “You will literally always have a calculator anytime you need it. Don’t waste time doing that out by hand.”
Being fed these kid rules and following them is harmless enough, but the issue occurs when we continue to take the same approach to grown-up rules.
Here is a longer list of grown-up rules:
- Graduate college and get a full-time job.
- Serve really expensive food at your wedding even though none of your friends want to pay $150 a plate and would be just as happy with pizza, chicken tenders, and mac ’n’ cheese.
- Work really hard for 40 years so you will have enough money to enjoy the last 20 years of your life.
- Drink milk because it is good for your slowly crumbling bones.
- Save up enough money so you can buy a house.
- Don’t eat ice cream for breakfast.
- Never switch jobs without getting a salary increase.
- Spend three months income on an engagement ring because asking someone to spend the rest of their lives with you is not a good enough way to show your affection.
- Work 9-to-5 each day because it is the most productive work schedule you can have.
- Wait three days after the first date before calling (sorry, texting) that incredible girl or guy back.
- Lie to your children about a variety of fictional characters that break into your home and leave them gifts throughout the year.
Sorry…got a little harsh with that last one, but you get the point. Many of our behaviors are largely driven by what we see other people doing and what society tells us is the proper way to do things.
That is not to say that everything listed above is incorrect or the wrong way to do things. But, I believe we should treat each of the items above, and others, as one of many options rather than the “correct” way to go about something.
If you don’t want to eat ice cream for breakfast, that’s totally fine. But eat your Raisin Bran because you made that choice, not because your friends would think you are an idiot for eating Moose Tracks at 7 am.
If you want to take a year off work now instead of 20 years straight when you might be too old to enjoy it, do it.
And if you want to work a 9-to-5 full-time job because that is what makes you happy, do that. But take the time to ask yourself the question to make sure that’s what you really want.
We need to stop paying attention to norms, following outdated ways of doing things because it is all we have known, and worrying about what other people may think if we make an unconventional choice.
Be smart enough to ask yourself the right questions to determine what makes you happy. And then do what makes you happy.
Life is full of rules.
But really, there are no rules.