Throw out the Rule Book! Your Unique Path Awaits
If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.
~ Joseph Campbell
So often, clients tell me that the things they most want to accomplish are impossible. One major root of this issue is the feeling that we don’t know how to follow the rules perfectly enough. When I refer to “rules” here, I mean the way others have achieved similar goals or the way society tells us we should try to do so. I commonly hear things like, “I’m too old,” “I’m too young,” “I don’t have the right credentials,” “I don’t know enough yet,” and on, and on. But, what I remind them is that each of us has a unique path, and when it comes to uniqueness, there are no rules.
Now, I’m not one for the philosophies that say, “You can have it all!” or, “You can be a millionaire next week!” When we’re talking about what our souls long to share with the world, we’re rarely talking about those bright, shiny things. We’re usually talking about a way of expressing ourselves, a way of relating to others, a way of sharing our gifts with others. Often, we can only see the way someone else has done that, and we take that to be the “rule” for how that has to be done.
Feeling like we need to fit within those rules really hampers our creativity. True creativity is organic and evolves along its own path. Think of one of the most creative processes on our planet—the way a volcano’s lava forms new land. Layer upon layer, lava lays down new real estate through flows and streams and tubes, forging its own brand new pathway as it goes. Likewise, our soul’s purpose is meant to forge its own unique pathway as it unfolds. When we try to conform to the way things have worked for others, it often doesn’t even work for us, and it most certainly won’t be our own path.
Following rules is also intertwined with trying to do things perfectly. But, think about the lava fields again. Would you ever look at the beautiful array of forms that cooled lava creates and lament, “That’s a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. Sad.” Of course not. You just marvel at the amazing creativity in it. Uniqueness is immune from being judged as perfect, imperfect, or lacking. It just is. What if we could feel just that way? Immune from being judged—by ourselves or others—as perfect, imperfect, or lacking. We just are, period. End of story. (This would be a good time to take a few really deep breaths and let that radical thought sink in.)
Often, when my clients begin to unlearn their need to follow rules perfectly, they find their “weird” or even “wrong” way of doing things is actually already perfect. They sometimes start to hear this as feedback from others even before they realize it, themselves. One of my clients ran out of time as she was preparing to teach the final class in a series, so she just handed out blank notebooks and had people draw and write as the session went along. At the end of the class, instead of the feedback that she dreaded—”How dare she come so unprepared?”—the students said it was their favorite class yet and begged her to extend the series.
Others find that removing layers of, “I can’t follow the rules perfectly,” allows them to meet challenges from an entirely new place. A college student client’s intense fear in this arena made him completely blank out when he walked into tests, in addition to making studying a very scattered and difficult process. After only a couple weeks of unlearning these fears, he had a very different experience. The first thing that came to mind as he looked at his next text was, “I’m going to ace this.” He went on to make the Dean’s List the next semester, and he began to really succeed at school for the first time in his life.
If you’re like me, trying to conform to the rules perfectly may just feel like a way of life—like the air you breathe. You can start uncovering where these rules hamper your creativity by paying attention to the places where your dreams or goals seem impossible to you. Is it in relationships? Your career? Your personal expression? Your body? What if there aren’t any rules in that area of your life, but just a unique and joyful path that could unfold before you, instead?