Friday, December 11, 2015

Breaking the rules

From a young age, I've been one to strictly adhere to rules. From walking in a straight line, waiting my turn, obeying traffic laws and even not cutting tags off mattresses. Being the eldest child and grandchild didn't help, as it was firmly engrained in me that it was my job to set a good example for both my siblings and younger cousins. Hence I was the "good" child, excelling academically, obeying curfew, going to college and avoiding any situation that could potentially bring shame upon me and my family. I did what I was told and believed firmly that there was a natural order that should be followed.

That all changed when I found myself diagnosed with infertility and watching my family fawn over teenage cousins who found themselves pregnant. My world was rocked as I found myself shunned and discarded, with my mother emphasizing that attention needed to focused solely on them. As time has gone on, more examples have surfaced where breaking the "rules" or ignoring a beneficial order has hurt us while helping those who take advantage. From hanging onto our condo through the financial crisis (we learned recently that others who went through foreclosure have recovered financially and are now purchasing houses), to following advice of mentors (the fields I've been discouraged from are now very lucrative and hiring) to even advice on career transitions (don't get me started). The long and the short of it is that despite what others advise and attest to, there are many examples where cheating the system can actually be more rewarding.

This past week things came to a head. With She-Beat being sick, I've been home with her meaning I've been missing more work than I care for. Granted the bonding that has happened has been priceless, but considering I have a limited amount of time to do my postdoc, I've been feeling rushed. What doesn't help either is that I'm still not sure what the next step is after this. E and I have began this conversation (finally got brave) and she still believes there's a lot of opportunity in academia, particularly within our field. The thing is I'm still uncertain if this is even the right path. On top of this, Grey hasn't been happy at work. Though only 3 months in to this position, it's already clear that the environment he's in is not engaging enough and he's frustrated with the culture that values punching a clock and billable hour over quality and insightfulness.

Yesterday evening, we had a heart-to-heart. We talked about being tired of following the rules and doing what others suggest. About how those who admittedly insist on procedure do so without having to live with the consequences we face. And a decision was made to start breaking some rules. To start reaching out and looking for opportunities. So Grey is warming up his networking again and I've scheduled a meeting with one someone in upper management at one of the big 3. In addition, I've started leaning more on others about their viewpoints by asking "why." Why do you believe this? Why are you so opposed? And what is your motivation for advising us so?

Already I'm facing some pushback. It's truly amazing how angry some people will get when advice is not immediately followed or adhered to. As if somehow it's a direct affront to do otherwise. Still, staying where we are and following the rules is hurting us. It's time to break them.


  1. I think it's an important thing to realize -- that if other people are setting the rules, why are we letting other people set the rules? If the rules benefit one group vs. everyone, should we follow them? Who sets the "rules" in a relationship? All big questions. Good luck with the big changes afoot.

  2. Like you, I was raised to follow the rules. It made sense for a time, and paid off -- until it didn't.

    Kudos to you for being willing to question.

  3. You've got to do what you've got to do sometimes. I was always a rule follower myself, but sometimes - you've got to break away. Good for you and Grey for recognizing that it might just be time to put your family first!

  4. It's very easy to get stuck in a rut, good for you for challenging your assumptions and those of others. It takes a great deal of energy too :-)

  5. Good that you and Grey are doing what you need to do to make your lives work! It's exhausting and hard to challenge or break these sorts of cultural/familial rules.

    As a fellow rule-follower (and eldest child/cousin) I really relate to this post.

  6. This is such an important realization. Like you, I grew up a rule follower and the best thing that happened was when my husband told me that I didn't have to teach if I didn't want to; we could pay back the scholarship/loan. It never occurred to me that my happiness and satisfaction were more important than blindly following some rule because I felt like I had to. Good for you and good luck!

  7. I was the "good" child too, and it has taken me a long time to be comfortable breaking rules, or at least, questioning them. I think that people get angry about this because they are at heart insecure. I also think that men can't always handle being asked to justify themselves by women. I don't know if that's a factor in all this.

  8. I was always afraid to break the rules. I just KNEW that I would be the one who got caught. ;) I think it's an "eldest child" thing, at least in part. I still struggle with being "good" and not making a scene, but I do find I am not QUITE as worried about these things the older I get. ;)


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