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Are You Playing By Rules That Don’t Exist?

rulesPlaying by the rules is something good people like to do. But sometimes those rules we play by? Um, they don’t exist.

So this week I thought I’d list a few of the “rules” that conscientious people seem to live by, and pose the question:

Are these really rules? Or are they just fixed ideas that limit us unnecessarily?

Career “Rules”:

  • You can’t go into business unless you know accounting (or  write up a business plan, or have investors, etc.)
  • You can’t call yourself an expert unless you have credentials on paper
  • You can’t be self-employed unless you enjoy self-promotion

Relationship “Rules”:

  • You can’t honestly validate someone’s feelings if you don’t agree with them
  • You have to say Yes to a friend’s invitation unless you’re legitimately busy
  • You can’t be angry or disappointed unless you’re prepared to do something about it

Are you playing by any of these rules? In my opinion, none of the above is actually a rule. But some of them sure feel like it.

Let’s take the “can’t turn down an invitation from a friend unless you’re genuinely busy” rule.

Whenever I RSVP online to an Evite invitation, I scroll through the No’s to read the excuses.

It’s remarkable how many people are out of town on any given weekend, no matter what the time of year.  Or having house guests, or surgery, or accepting an award, or performing a heart transplant…

Many of us need to feel like we have a legitimate excuse to say No, because we think we’re letting people down by doing so. It feels like we’re breaking a “good person” rule, and we’d better not do that unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Wouldn’t it be nice if introverts (I got your back, peeps) could just say, “Thanks for the invite, but I don’t like parties. Have fun!”

I think they should. If more of us subverted these rules, eventually they wouldn’t be rules anymore.

Can you think of other “rules” you’d rather not follow?

Photo courtesy of www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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0 Responses to "Are You Playing By Rules That Don’t Exist?"

  • Debbie
    September 21, 2013 - 10:24 am Reply

    Just a funny “rule” I guess I didn’t know . . .
    I replied no to an invitation (without an excuse) and was reamed out and “defriended” because, according to the host, I made a faux-pas by responding! Apparently, his belief is that it is worse than rude to do so and I just should not have replied at all! Huh?

    • Tina Gilbertson
      September 21, 2013 - 11:26 am Reply

      Ugh, I’m so sorry, Debbie. It seems the host was playing by the must-have-a-good-excuse rule. There are people out there who would take your RSVP as it was intended — a piece of information in reply to a query — rather than as a personal rejection, which is how it sounds like the host took it.

      There’s no accounting for interpretations like his that are based on personal doubts and fears. When we accidentally step on toes we can always apologize, but in my opinion, we should pause before following rules that protect one person’s fragile self-esteem at the expense of another’s integrity. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Isabel A. Spradlin
    September 23, 2013 - 8:01 am Reply

    And then I think of the Family “Rules” category and my palms start to sweat . . . I suppose this is what ice cream is for. 😉

    • Tina Gilbertson
      September 23, 2013 - 5:13 pm Reply

      Great point, Isabel; family rules are a killer because, while they appear to apply in the family, they don’t outside it. But no one tells you that!

      A long time ago I went on a date with a guy who became extremely uncomfortable every time I burped or hiccuped which, I admit, I did rather a lot on that particular date for reasons unknown to me then or now — but it wasn’t loud, you could barely notice unless you were paying close attention to my breathing.

      Anyway, he would chuckle nervously and comment every time it happened, and it seemed to make him break into a sweat. It was clear that he’d come from a family where any kind of unintentional gastrointestinal activity, including hiccuping after a meal, was just NOT OK.

      The rules are legion, and every family seems to have a unique set of them. Thanks for — dare I say it? — bringing that up.

  • timethief
    October 3, 2013 - 11:26 am Reply

    I don’t want to even begin to clearly recall the family rules that I was raised under. There were societal rules and religious rules and of course my parents had their own various interpretations of those rules as well as their own rules. There were rules for girls and rules for boys and exceptions to rules based on gender and there were even more rules in the workplace.

    UGG! I tossed the rule book into the trash can as soon as I became of age and could leave and begin my own life. It’s no wonder that I’m self employed today. I’m not the groupie type. LOL 😀 I don’t march to the same drummer as others I prefer to play my own tune. Can you hear me humming “Take your rules and shove ’em”?

    • Tina Gilbertson
      October 3, 2013 - 3:41 pm Reply

      Yes, it can be painful to recall rules from one’s family of origin. I think there’s only one thing worse than having been subjected to the tyranny of too many arbitrary rules… and that is, not to even notice them!

      Thanks for stopping by today, Timethief. There’s no rule that you have to leave a comment, but I’m glad you did.

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