When to break the rules Picture

When to break the rules

"Trust your instincts!" Easily written, but not always so easy to do, especially given the pressures and responsibilities of modern living. Everyone has different core motivations and the willingness of any one individual to accept risk varies greatly from that of another. This is true even where both face the same challenges and have equal resources available to see them through a common enterprise.

No two people view the same shared experience in identical manner. Each of us perceives opportunity and threat through the filter of our own unique experience. We weigh our inherent ability, courage and optimism against the rules we have assimilated from the "teachings" of all those we have ever felt responsible to or for. Our thoughts and attitudes are modified, both consciously and un-consciously, by every lesson we have taken in.

This ability to filter is a valuable protective and enabling mechanism. A basic example would be that sooner or later we all learn to keep our fingers out of the fire. In this case, the rationale and consequential benefits are obvious. A more complex illustration would be how an individual might learn as a child that making people laugh can increase the chance of getting what they want. Clearly, such filters and the strategies we develop to comply with them can be highly effective and have a dramatic impact on how we live our lives.

Therefore it is essential that we each develop and consciously consider our own guidelines to sustain us healthily within our own highly personal view of the world. We must be aware both of the volume of information we receive in our lives, as well as the ways in which we process and assimilate it. We must be alert to signals that indicate it might be time to accept that some of those "rules" no longer apply. We must be ready and able to move on to new principles and interpretations if we are to remain open to opportunity and wish to fully enjoy the rewards and sense of completeness that each and every one of us deserves.

When I first left school and was looking for work (at the time I had no interest in continuing my education beyond 18) I saw an advert for a new company hiring people to write rules for wargames. It pressed all the right buttons for me, steeped as I was at the time in fantasy role-play games and wargaming generally. I was sure it would be immense fun. Although I could not have expressed it as such, I instinctively recognised that the post would have fulfilled my powerful need for a creative outlet and my even less well understood desire for recognition and appreciation. If memory serves, the prospect of doing something that I was passionate about, that I knew I would be good at; and that would constantly stretch my imagination, was far more appealing that the simple opportunity of having some form of steady income. Certainly it is those potential benefits that I remember rather than the amount of money on offer.

Despite all these great benefits, as I thought through the opportunity, a nagging voice intruded and became more and more insistent. I kept telling myself that this wasn't a proper job. Wargaming and systems modelling were fascinating, but something in my personal rule-set said that having "fun" did not equate either to "responsibility" or to "work".

In my world, I believed that I should be sensible, work hard and do the right thing. My rules (ie: the lessons I had learned from those around me) quite clearly stated that work was obligatory and it wasn't work unless it was taxing! "Fun" was frivolous, something to be enjoyed (probably in moderation) quite separately once all of my responsibilities had been fulfilled! Seeing this written in black and white, I now very easily appreciate the immense tensions that this conflict generated! Yet at the time, at every level of awareness and consciousness, I was resigned to the apparent "fact" that, "that's just the way it is!"

And so my internal dialogue ran on. Not surprisingly, after not so long debate, I reluctantly talked myself out of applying. Instead, I went to clean, repair and calibrate surveying equipment. It was a good job, a valuable learning experience and, as I now recognise, it fulfilled all of the rules I maintained so tightly at the time. It was also even less fun than it sounds! Suffice to say, my employment there did not last very long and I soon moved on.

And the wargaming role? Somehow, without me noticing, the company grew massively on both sides of the Atlantic and now has stores in many cities across the world. Wargaming in all its forms has gone from strength to strength. With the rise of computer gaming, the industry now generates many millions of pounds globally each year.

Who knows what would have happened had I trusted my instinct and applied? Who cares! The time was obviously not right for me then and I made a decision based on the best available information I had. I still play and I still enjoy creating historical simulation mechanisms. It is also clear that many equally amazing things have happened for me since, things that almost certainly could not have occurred had I pursued that direction. I cannot and would not want to change that decision.

However, looking back on my career to date, I am struck by the appreciation that, almost always un-consciously, I sought and frequently found in each subsequent role, some aspect that was ever more congruent to my true values. Indeed, in some cases I was driven to move on precisely because the situation had become too incongruent to my needs. At the time I could only have justified this in terms of feelings of frustration, dissatisfaction and occasionally anger, at perceived lack of fair reward, often coupled with a sense of powerlessness in the face of what I saw as inefficiencies, injustice and irrationality - regardless of any part I may or may not have played in such things!

While I entirely accept that every experience makes us stronger and wiser if we let it, had I been more aware of the restrictions I had taken on through undue conformity to the values and beliefs of others, it is possible that I may have made quite different choices at times and in consequence would probably have enjoyed a more balanced and satisfying life much sooner.

The key point is that I unconsciously allowed well intended constraints to limit both the range of options open to me and my very ability to choose between them. Crucially, I did this without ever really questioning the validity or relevance of the underlying values to me. At that early stage in my life, I consciously ignored my intuition and set aside my own passion in order to measure up to the expectations of others.

Regardless of whether or not my decision was for the best way back then, these days I am a lot more willing and able to test "the rules"! By recognising the influence of the three most common fundamental human values - to be in control of our lives, to achieve what we aim for and to be comfortable with the part we play within the society we identify with - I am now free to strive to always be true to myself, whilst respecting the values and beliefs of the people around me who I hold to be genuinely important and most dear to me.

About the author: Chris Jones

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