Break The Rules Already!

Steve Jobs shows off iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worl...
What if he'd played nicely? Followed others rules? Image via Wikipedia

If there is a phrase that truly sets my teeth on edge it’s this one:

“But I played by the rules.”

This week the world, literally, mourned the untimely death of someone who broke just about any rule he encountered, Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Here’s an Apple video that beautifully sums it up, with images of iconoclasts from Callas to Ford to Gandhi to Picasso, all powerful reminders that rules are made to be broken.

If Steve Jobs had “played by the rules” I wouldn’t be writing this on a Mac desktop or check my email on an Iphone or Iouch. We need, more than, ever cage rattlers like him.

Did you create those rules? Did you have a say in creating them? Did you think they were smart or useful or truly fit your life?

I do not mean: breaking the law, behaving unethically or immorally, cheating or lying.

I do mean: figure it out for yourself, question authority, ask why, investigate, challenge.

My worldview, like all of ours’, is a direct outgrowth of the family in which I was raised. Only my brothers and I attended university.

My parents, who did not, (my Dad eventually finished his degree in his 70s),Ā  never “held a job” or eagerly, patiently and politely awaited the standard rewards of a pension, paid vacation or job-linked benefits. Instead, all of us work for ourselves, invent businesses, hire agents to represent our interests and attorneys to review their work.

My father, still alive at 82, was an award-winning film-maker, a director of television and documentaries and feature films. My mother was a journalist and my step-mother wrote for television.

We had steak years and hamburger years. We never counted on things remaining the same. I grew up learning to save and to invest, in my own skills as much as in any faith — if any — in “the system.”

This notion that “playing by the rules” will win you the game is utter madness. It works beautifully to keep entire populations hopeful, polite, eager to accept whatever terrible working conditions and wages are offered.

A friend’s husband, a man in his late 30s, recently applied for a retail job. He was offered $9 an hour. We live in New York — it would have cost him $8 in tolls simply to drive from his home to his new job.

Which is why thousands of fed-up, worn-out Americans are now occupying Wall Street and other locations; here’s a link to several writers there on the ground.

Because too many of today’s American “rules” work only to further the obscene gains of the already wealthy, not for millions of the rest of us.

These are rules that, we all know now, are deeply and consistently enriching a small, narrow slice of the population. The wealthy do not need to buy their 6th or 7th home on the fruits of our cheap, benefits-free, employed-at-will labors.

If you really hate being screwed by the rules, stop following them with such unquestioning, docile obedience. The “game” is only possible when people keep showing up to play as usual…

Teach yourself and your kids how to acquire and use and sell effectively, freelance when necessary, a wide range of skills, whether how to fix a toilet, soothe an elder or speak Mandarin. Don’t keep buying into the costly and misleading notion that we have to pay others a ton of dough to teach us stuff. To acquire “credentials” that — funny thing — now seem to have no market value at all.

If you don’t want to keep getting screwed by the system, you’ve got to change your MO.

I love this recent, helpful and inspiring blog post by a woman who lives in rural England about turning desperation into inspiration.

The only rules I know that have really helped me?

Hustle. Every single day. (Read Seth Godin’s blog.)

Moderate your material demands to live (safely) with the lowest possible overhead, which gives you the creative freedom to try new (ad)ventures without the fear of losing your home or nutrition. Teach your family to do likewise; drive an old car, or none at all.

Create and nurture networks of people who love, trust and respect your value(s) and skills.

Work with the best and smartest people who will return your calls and emails.

Give 150 percent effort when necessary and 75 percent when possible. (Many of your competitors are offering 50 percent, believing it to be more.)

Save money — to keep your “f–k-you fund” topped up, so if you find yourself in an untenable situation related to your income stream, you can afford to leave and seek something better. It might well mean working for yourself instead.Ā 

Save a ton of money, (and invest it wisely), even if your income goes up.

Eschew debt.

Break some damn rules!

Make your own!

11 thoughts on “Break The Rules Already!

  1. This post speaks to me. I’ve struggled my whole life with this. I’m very much the type that follows the rules. Friends have spoken to me about looking around, recognizing the system, then adapting to maximizing methods to produce the most results within that system. I’m not good at that.

    And, regarding the list of rules at the end of your post, I break all of them. Religiously. Does that mean I’m on the right track? šŸ™‚

    1. I married a man who lives, very, very carefully, by the rules. I do not. But I have to be honest enough to admit that my choice NOT to costs us in very real terms….lost income, specifically. I absolutely contribute to our income and my income is essential to our survival. But if I toed the line, I’d make more.

      I think it’s a challenge, whatever side of the line we end up on, to make a change in our thinking and behavior. Good luck, though, as it is important — nay, essential — to see clearly the systems we are enmeshed in and decide what role in them we truly want to play.

      Until you can see the entire machinery, it’s hard to see what a tiny cog we usually are. My new book has a chapter called Cogs In The Machine — the exact phrase a retail worker used in his private email to me in response to the book.

  2. Love this post! I teeter between the two areas; I’ve not really pushed boundaries too hard (yet!) but I’ve spurned a ‘normal’ career path to keep learning and chasing things I enjoy. Money has come and gone, and I’m only just getting started, but I just can’t sit down and settle for 9-5. And having a f**k you fund… I just drew down on mine, though I didn’t have that name for it! Handy to have, though I will need to replenish it when I can…

  3. Thanks!

    You’ve chosen a fascinating field — science — which has tremendous possibility for change…IF not everyone in it is co-opted by $$$$ or politics. I think one of your toughest challenges will be trying to educate (!) the general populace as to the fundamentals behind the policy decisions we all face. I think we’re mostly horribly scientifically illiterate.

    If you “buy in” completely, what change is possible?

  4. Pingback: What I Wanted To Say Yesterday, But Didn’t | Gifts Of The Journey

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