The Unwritten Rules That Hold You Back
27 Sunday Nov 2011
What stops us from doing what we love? Lots of things of course. But one of them is the unwritten rules that we have – consciously or unconsciously – set for ourselves or have inherited from our families or society.
Unwritten rules are rules that we feel we need to follow because if we don’t, they (whoever they is for you) might think we’ve lost our head, gotten above our station, are taking too many risks, are too full of ourselves, or any other thoughts that people have when we throw them a curve ball with what we’re doing. Unwritten rules are expectations that we have of ourselves – or that we feel others have for us – that could have the possibility to hold us back, keep us stagnant, and prevent us from following our dreams.
Here’s an example:
I once knew someone that had a professional job in the nonprofit sector and she gave it all up to take a minimum wage job at Thrifty Foods (one of our local grocery stores here in Victoria) as a baker. She had always loved to bake and just wanted to try it out to see if it was something that was going to make her happy. I’ll admit that I remember when she told me this that I thought (but definitely did not say out loud): Wow, she’s crazy, who wants to make so little money? And: But she went to university, she can’t work at Thrifty’s!
In having those reactions then I was following my unwritten rules, which were:
#1 – If you went to university you are “above” getting a job in retail.
#2 – If you have the knowledge and ability to make more than minimum wage, you should.
#3 – It sucks to make minimum wage.
#4 – Doing something you like isn’t worth it if you have to make minimum wage to do it.
Wow, that was a lot of baggage I was carrying around, wasn’t it? All that in response to someone who was trying to figure out what they would love to do with their career – a highly admirable endeavour! She was willing to take a risk to find the work that she loved, and I was getting caught up in my own baggage around it. I’m so glad that I didn’t put any of my “stuff” on this person based on my unwritten rules. I hope the decision worked out for her in the end. (She moved away not long after that and I lost touch with her…she probably owns a string of bakeries by now!)
I wonder if the woman had to overcome unwritten rules of her own in making the decision she did? It makes me think how many times I’ve made decisions about my own career directions based on these kinds of inherited rules. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes rules such as these can be a positive thing: they can push you in directions that you might not have the “get up and go” to push yourself to. But sometimes these rules hold us back from doing what it is that we love. Imagine if that woman had had similar feelings about taking such a job, worried too much about what others thought, and decided it wasn’t worth the risk or the embarrassment? She may always have wondered if being a baker could have been her “thing”, but she never would have found out. Sad.
So here’s what we can do: stay aware. Keep our awareness tuned to realizing where we are following unwritten rules that have been passed down to us from goodness knows where…but actually don’t need to be listened to this time. Will making minimum wage make you extremely happy because it will be doing what you love? Go for it. Will becoming an artist instead of a doctor (the career your parents wanted for you) fulfill you in ways that medicine never could? Go for it. Have you realized that you actually don’t need to make a lot of money to be happy? Please, go ahead. Follow your own rules from now on.
We are not dogs paired with a master of our domain. We are unique. We are individuals. We all have gifts and a reason we were put on this beautiful blue Earth. Why would we let what others think stand in our way to figure that out?
If you’ve got an unwritten rule or two that has been passed on to you by the almighty they, I’d love to hear what they are in the comments.