The other day, the incredibly wise Shanna Mann said something to me about rules that I found mind-blowing: They exist to simplify things. They’re like suggested best practices for when you don’t want to figure things out on your own. They are not, in fact, the only way to do something.
(No doubt some of you are thinking, Well duh! so let me just make a note of the fact that I have always been an obsessive rule follower. Always. So this is some serious news to me.)
The Rules I Am and Am Not Talking About
Now, obviously some kinds of rules are good to follow if you want to continue living peacefully with your neighbor. We tend to call those laws. They’re not what I’m talking about.
There are social rules, too, which would be more along the lines of etiquette: how does society say you should interact with others? That sort of thing. Those aren’t really what I’m talking about either.
The rules that trouble me most are the ones for things like how to set up a blog or how to make a pot of soup. You can find rules to follow to accomplish both. I have, in fact — I am used to seeking rules for pretty much everything I do. It’s tough for me to make any sort of move unless I feel like I’ve already charted the best course, based on those who have gone before.
But what if these “rules” are, in fact, more like guidelines, suggestions for you to follow that will make the process easier? Does that make anyone else’s brain tingle? Suddenly I feel so much freer, so much more able to experiment. To color outside the lines, if you will. To break the rules and wing it.
(Of course, it’s still going to take a lot of practice. But I feel like coming to terms with this idea is a baby step in the right direction.)
The Trouble with Rules
Here’s my problem with rules, which I’m only now becoming aware of: Following them blindly makes you just like everyone else. You have the same structure, you take the same approach, you do the same things as the rest of the avid rule followers, and you end up as part of a homogenized mass. On what basis do you stand out? When do you think for yourself? Where do you get to be unapologetically you?
You can’t truly be you if all you do is follow other people’s rules. You have to question, test, experiment. Take what you read and hear with a grain of salt. Follow your instincts whenever and however you can. Your own internal compass is most likely more accurate for you than someone else’s rules, no matter how kind and helpful that other person seems to be. And it will get more and more accurate, stronger and stronger, the more you listen to it. I know because it’s happening for me.
So do you exist in a vacuum? Of course not. You still learn from others — you just make sure as best you can that the action you take lines up with what’s right for you. You can ask for support from and give support to others as you walk your path.
But you aren’t following them on their path, stepping precisely where they’ve stepped. You aren’t walking the same path, either, all spread out across the Yellow Brick Road like Dorothy and her companions.
Rather, you are all on separate paths, perhaps through the same part of the world, perhaps over similar terrain. You may walk together for a while, or just say hello as you glimpse one another through the trees. You might pass warnings back and forth — Beware of the snare ahead! Rough terrain a few days on! — and help each other where you can. Maybe camp together for the night or meet up for a meal and some good company. Learn from one another’s mistakes and wisdom.
But it’s your path. You walk it yourself. No one else can walk it for you — and you shouldn’t want them to. And no one else can walk it with you, not all the way.
I say don’t follow someone else’s path step-for-step. Forge your own. And I’ll do my best to do the same.
What’s Your Take?
How do you feel about rules? And paths? And the like?