Who’s ruling you?






By Caitlin Kelly

Love this piece by friend, former coaching client, author, Viv Groskop — a UK comedian and journalist who’s (natch) a Cambridge graduate who also speaks fluent Russian, from UK website The Pool:

Although it sounds like you need to say it in Jonathan’s voice in your head (“Yas, queen, brules!”), brules are genius. They are the “bullshit rules” you’re living by without knowing it. They’re another term for “limiting beliefs”, a popular expression that describes unnecessary myths and outdated values that not only don’t serve you any more but may even never have been true in the first place. If you can identify your “bullshit rules”, you can see clearly where you’re holding yourself back.

I see so many people making themselves unhappy living by other people’s rules — those of their parents, their peers, their neighbors, their friends, their co-workers.

And I hear so many (broke, resentful, frustrated) Americans say: “But I played by the rules!” As if the people who make the rules (banks, insurance companies, government) actually have to abide by them.

Life is short and living by other peoples’ rules that make you miserable can feel safe and secure — everyone else is OK, right? — but can be a real waste of time.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a family of creatives — my father made films and my mother and late step-mother were writers — so the notion I had to get a “real job” sitting in an office wasn’t ever one of our rules. (Be charming! Compete hard! Keep going! were more like it.)


Some of the “rules” I live by:


— Make as little money as possible in the least amount of time. Every day I see fellow writers crowing about their six-figure incomes — i.e. making $100,000 a year — a sum I never attained, even in my best-paid NYC journalism staff jobs. We have decent retirement savings now, so the pressure to make bank is lower than it was, and is, for many. I’ve never measured my human or professional value based on my income. I’m most proud of our savings, a more valuable figure because they give us freedom.

Sleep a lot. I typically sleep 8-10 hours every night, counter to the I’m-so-busy draaaaaaaama proving how “productive” some are. I also take naps, as needed. I’m not ashamed of my need to rest and recharge.

I’d rather be creative than productive.  I make much less money than some others, but I’m also not cranking out shit I find silly or stupid. People do what they have to financially, but after decades working as a writer, if a story doesn’t engage me intellectually or emotionally, no thanks.

— I enjoy cooking and cleaning. Our marriage is pretty retro in that regard and I do almost all the housework since my husband is earning the bulk of our income right now. Working at home makes this much easier for me, not losing hours every day commuting to an office.

— Travel as often and far away as possible. This definitely affects my thinking on everything — if something costs the same as a plane ticket or a week spent abroad, travel always wins! I just had lunch with a friend this week who’ll soon be teaching in Hong Kong for four months, a place I’ve never been. Hmmmmm. Time for a visit?


What are some of the rules you live by?



34 thoughts on “Who’s ruling you?

  1. Caitlin – I so agree with you on all of this. I love the term and I have recently made a decision that will improve the quality of my life and I’ll keep you posted as it develops. I feel really good about it and it goes right along with this way of thinking/feeling. You clearly know what’s important in life and I feel I have a pretty good handle on it too.

    1. Thanks!

      I think it also gets a lot clearer — and maybe (?) easier as we age. The hell with “peer pressure” because what makes some people really happy can make us so unhappy — but you think “well, they’re HAPPY” so their rules must work…But they don’t. Not for us.

      I’m glad I grew up in a feisty family that basically played by its own rules a lot of the time.

      And, yes, I am VERY aware, this reflects our privilege in having health, decent income and savings, without which it’s almost impossible.

  2. You missed out ‘their partners’ from your list. I am a dreamer but my wife is far more risk-averse so I end up holding back on my own dreams to prevent her getting anxious. problem is that this just makes me sad and bitter and feeling trapped. I guarantee I am not the only one in this situation and it is impossible to get out of without someone getting hurt – unlike quitting a job.

    1. Hmmmm.

      Fair point.

      My husband is much more risk averse than I am — and so every more adventurous trip I really want to take (Morocco, for example) he pooh-poohs. I’m getting weary of the same/safe places, so I hear you on that.

      I guess it really depends how much (?) of your dreams you can stand to give up — and how much (?) you might be able to negotiate — and how much you want to be married to her. You did choose to marry her, after all.

      I know women whose husbands do some mighty risky things that I would have difficult with — like ice-climbing and flying small aircraft. Risk comes in all flavors — physical, emotional professional, financial…

      Wishing you a way to resolve this without all this bad stuff!

      I’ve had a wild and fun life so being more domesticated isn’t as annoying to me now. I also get to go off and have my own adventures (like my 5 weeks alone in Europe last summer.)

      1. To be fair my wife does allow me to go off on solo holidays as she knows it keeps me sane.

        We did marry very young. Back then I was less adventurous than she was. Now we are the other way round.

        I guess it bothers me more because, unlike you, I have not had a wild and fun life and as I get older it bothers me more and more.

        There is progress. I plan to travel to Canada in september and probably Australia next year.

      2. I hear you — and you have my sympathies.

        I didn’t marry the first time (miserably) until I was 35, divorced by 37, with more adventures and travel until I remarried at 43 a man much better suited and with whom I’m still together.

        I never had children, so did not have (and did not want) that additional responsibility and cost. A husband is enough! 🙂

        Marriage — at best — is a great joy, but it does take some negotiation and compromise, even small stuff. I end up doing a lot of my NYC trips – to ballet, opera, museums, etc. alone — which I don’t like much. But it’s that or staying home with husband, whose preferred entertainment is the Golf Channel, which bores the hell out of me.

        But he’s a great guy, so c’est la vie.

  3. Jan Jasper

    I cannot recall a time, ever, when I felt I should live by other people’s expectations and standards. I realize, in retrospect, that to be that way when you’re 20 is a little immature and self-indulgent. Ok. But that basic skepticism towards what “We’re supposed to do” has never left me. A byproduct of that is that I often have little to talk about with many people. If a person’s life revolves so much around others expectations , rather than their own expectations for themselves, it can be hard to have a conversation when you don’t have a shared basic worldview. For example, I didn’t get married until I was 49. People find that surprising and often want to ask me about it. I know they mean to be friendly, but it can be tiresome. So I’ve learned to make very brief, deflective answers.

    1. I totally get it.

      The people I get along best with are (not surprisingly) fellow creatives, self-employed and often people who have lived outside their home countries — often for years and in multiple places. They don’t choose conventionally nor admire those who do.

      My father — self-employed his whole life (and winner of the most prestigious prize for documentary work) — is very ill at ease around “normal” successful people — with $$$ and status and power usually gained through corporate work or wealth. It’s not how we measure success.

  4. I’m not so sure I have rules, but I guess one would be: above all, be true to thyself. Shakespeare had it right, even if in the context it was said in Hamlet was kind of meant to show the speaker’s hypocrisy.

  5. People like to advise against talking about sex, politics and religion, as they can be damaging to relationships. True that, and no doubt, but there’s one subject that is far too often left out, which brings me to rule #1

    Don’t sit around talking about your problems all the time, especially if they seem really overwhelming. You’ll wear out your friends and your problems will still be there.

    We recently witnessed what is a very telling commentary on the state of humanity in places where there is internet service. Remember “Permit Patty”? She’s the one who tried, in a pretty undiplomatic fashion, I think, to get a little peace and quiet and became Instagram’s punching bag of the week for her trouble. I have no beef with her, or even the lady who posted the video, but with the thousands who lined up to take their shot at someone who wasn’t bothering them in a fight that didn’t belong to them. Why did they do it? I don’t know, maybe they wanted to excoriate her in front of the world to demonstrate the extremely high value they place on kindness. And now, rule #2

    MIND YOUR OWN DAMN BUSINESS! It’s easy enough and if, like me, you like to do the occasional good deed, there are plenty of opportunities available. I have lots of really brilliant opinions that no one gives a tinker’s damn about, mostly about things I shouldn’t care about myself so, unless someone is asking, I’m just going to let ’em slide on by.

    Fake news. This just in: Fake news is not news, in just the same way that the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge is not news. It’s been going on forever. Mark Twain said it very well: “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do, you’re misinformed”.
    The news is about money. Market share brings advertisers, who bring money, so you have to grow your market share. But I digress. Rule #3

    Before you go shooting your mouth off, get it straight. It is an ironclad scientific fact that 86.495% of all statistical data is pure grass fed bullshit (Grass fed smells better, more like a farm and less like a high density feed lot).

    Okay, so enough already about social mores, let’s talk about sex. YEAH I’m going there! Here’s #4:

    If you are a man over the age of seventeen and you can’t be happy unless you are having lots of sex, then you need a hobby. I started wargaming and it straightened me right out. I was wondering as I sat here, not knowing what I was going to say next, how I was going to put this out there without getting all sexy, which I think is inappropriate in this setting. I’d say it worked out pretty well. By the way, I’m going to do a wargaming post on my page in the next couple of days, so be sure to come and check it out. My ego won’t be able to live without the validation.

    Money money money and more money. #5

    The past, present and future all require money. Don’t neglect any of them. It took us five years to dig our way far enough out from under our two year credit card bender to move away from Florida and another two to scratch up enough money to buy our home here in North Carolina. I worked as much overtime as I could get, but when we got there, I took my foot off the gas a little. My employer wasn’t a big fan of my whole “Working to make my life better” philosophy but I stuck with it and look at me now! Beautiful home, beautiful wife, beautiful life.
    A lot of people look at me like I’m delusional when I say I have plenty of money, but I do, so ONWARD TO THE FUTURE!
    Due to some health issues, life insurance companies won’t touch me with a ten foot pole so, in order to give the future its due, I’m selling a lot of cool stuff I don’t really enjoy anymore and diverting the cash into something I really do enjoy: coin collecting. I looked at my collection the other day and I was amazed at how it had grown from picking up a coin or two here and there every once in a while and saving them like a responsible ten year old. Their value doesn’t increase aggressively but it’s stable and it’s lots of fun.

    This last one is short and sweet. It has been given to us by Viv Savage, legendary keyboardist for the equally legendary British metal band, Spinal Tap. He says “Have a good time ALL the time”. I couldn’t agree more.

    DISCLAIMER: This stuff works for me, but I am a professional. Do not attempt any of the aforementioned actions without supervision. Sex and money may be prohibited in your area and may be hazardous. See a doctor immediately if you develop a shit eating grin that lasts four hours or more, as you may need to go in to work on the weekend to clear it up. Good post, you, thanks for putting it out there.

    1. WHEW!

      Glad this one resonated…

      What we’re really talking about are values, principles and priorities — which we then make into our rules.

      Living by others’ rules is such a silly thing to do unless you agree with them. I occasionally attend church (maybe once every month or so?) and some would call me a backslider or “not a Christian” (because I’m not playing by their rules) but…I do my damn best to treat others well every day, and that, to me, is Christian behavior, not just planting my ass in a pew where everyone can admire me being/sounding Christian.

      I spent my childhood ages 8 to 13 in boarding school (SO MANY RULES) and every summer all summer at camp (probably as many, but a lot more fun) and I have no doubt this has affected my middle-finger-mindset ever since. NEVER a fan of authority.

  6. Divine Grace Madali

    This is both wise and helpful! I agree with all the rules you have. For me, my rules are:
    – Look into the soul, not just on a person’s physical embellishments
    – Love is a decision. Your commitment to it should not only base on the highness or lowness of your feeling
    – Being real doesn’t mean being rude because kindness can be one’s authentic characteristic
    – Bliss in solitude is better than loud empty laughters

    😊 Thanks for sharing us part of your individuality!

  7. I’m feeling like I understood what you were asking but muddied the waters a bit with my baffling verbosity. I’ve been told more than once that I do go on a bit, true enough, but more often than not I do it to illustrate my point. Now, to illustrate this point, I give you the Walter Cronkite version of:
    1.) Don’t overburden your friends with your problems.
    2.) Mind your own business.
    3.) Know what you’re talking about before you start talking.
    4.) Don’t be ruled by your sex drive.
    5.) Keep your financial priorities in balance.
    6.) You only get one life. Enjoy it as much as you can.
    And that’s the way it is…
    I fear I may be writing this to the peril of our electronic relationship but I’m trusting in your gifts of empathy and discernment to keep me in your good graces. I enjoyed writing this comment (See #6) and I hope people enjoy reading it but sometimes it just falls flat. No matter, if you want to get a hit, you have to take a swing (Rule #7). See ya.

    1. Got it.

      I agree with all of them.

      I think the question of “overburdening your friends” is a more challenging one. Sometimes friends (for me) have offered smart/tart/helpful advice — even if I don’t want to hear it or heed it.

      I’m in close enough touch with my true friends that I know when THEY are already (as several are right now) overburdened with their own stuff so I don’t lay anything heavy on them.

      I do think we all need help and comfort sometimes, (if constantly, that’s an issue), and the wider/deeper your web of friendships is, the lower the chance of burning any one of them out.

      I am lucky enough — even as an older woman — to have friends in their 20s, 30s and 40s — and (selfishly) they are often in better shape than my (ill/aging) peers. I’m not 80 but health shit is starting to show up much more and NO ONE wants to talk about goddamn doctors all the time, including me. More fun to chat with young un’s about their work, dating, marriage, travels, etc.

      1. I love your use of the word “tart” in reference to advice that may be, I’m thinking, unpalatable. I really like tart cherries and rhubarb, so I may just take some tart advice, but that’s just me. This thread is a gold mine of good things to think about. Well done.

  8. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Thursday links | A Bit More Detail

  9. Pingback: Who’s ruling you? — Broadside – Be A Star

  10. Firestar

    Oh dear, the share button does not work as anticipated. I have removed republishing your article. I did want to share or highlight it, as being such a compliment for my thoughts. I apologize and will try to figure out that process.

  11. Firestar

    It reposted “via” my blog in WordPress, yes. I didn’t expect that. I used the share button, thinking it would work like sharing a link but had a different result than expected. I also believed you would get a notification so I left you a comment. From your site there is a reblog button, however, I was sure that was meant to be used with permission. I’m sorry for the bother.

  12. Firestar

    Hello, after checking I shared this again. It showed up as a quote on my site via yours. Searching help I found you can change your settings for the search if that isn’t acceptable to you? It is a great article. Thank you for posting.

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