Break the Rules – Change your Life

career coaching, career change, find work you love

Raising the bar

I sometimes think that we live life like a high-jump competition.

We take on new things and have a good go at clearing the bar.  Every time we succeed, we raise the bar a little higher.  Eventually we’ll raise the bar so high that we can’t clear it any more.

Then we feel gutted.  Beaten.  Defeated.

All those clearances we made before feel like wasted effort – in the end we were a big loser!  All our focus goes on the failure.

This approach relies on some rigid rules about how to be successful in life that are hard-wired into our brains.

The Rules

Rule 1 – Strive to be perfect

We must always push us to keep striving to be higher, faster, stronger.  We strive for perfection, to be better every time.

Rule 2 – Never, ever stop

Like the high-jumper, when we achieve our goals, we barely stop to celebrate.  We have to go and get focused for the next jump.  The next task.  The next hurdle to negotiate.

Rule 3 – Failure is not an option

When we fail, we feel crushed, fixate on our failure.  It feels like the end of the world.

How did this happen?

career coaching, career change, find work you love

Evolve or die

I guess we have to thank our ancient ancestors for these rules.

Back then it was survival of the fittest – evolve or die.

You had to keep raising the bar – inventing a better spear, learning how to make fire, how to be a great hunter.

Stopping was not an option – life was urgent and primal.

Failure was the end of the world – literally

I’m still thankful that we have strong survival instincts. Yet in our modern world, I reckon it might be time to break these rules apart.

To live a remarkable, high quality life requires a more flexible approach to life than our primal ancestors took.  We need to break all the rules.

Breaking the rules

Stop pushing so hard

Striving to be perfect is such a heavy burden to carry.  We can always find someone richer, smarter, more charismatic to compare ourself against.

Perfection is just an imaginary concept to compete against – it lacks any kind of definition.  It’s like trying to find the end of the rainbow.

Instead of striving for perfection, how about aspiring to do the best you can?  Frankly you won’t always succeed, however hard you try.  Welcome to human!

If you try to do the best you can, enjoy each experience as much as possible and accept the outcome it is hard to ask for more.

Sometimes that means that you’ll lower the high jump bar rather than raising it, and be happier for it.

Give yourself a break

Never stopping is exhausting.

In the modern world, we have the luxury of being able to stop and reflect.  To smell the roses.  To day-dream, relax, look after ourselves and recharge our batteries.  We have the space to prepare for the next great challenge or project.

For most people life flows in peaks and troughs of energy and activity.  Your body and minds will tell you when it is time to go for it and when to slow down and take a break.  If you don’t listen you’ll be cruising for a break down.

So when you clear a jump, take a while to enjoy it.  Perhaps rather than resetting the bar, find a deck chair and take a nap.

Enjoy failure

If you’re not failing 90% of the time, you’re not trying hard enough”.

The current world high-jump record is held by Javier Sotomayor of Cuba at 2m 45cm.  Check out his jump.

Sotomayor didn’t just wake up one morning, hop out of bed and successfully jump over 8ft.  Sotomayor’s record is the result of a lifetime of failure.

Javier has inevitably failed many more than he has ever succeeded.  All the hours of training involved failing to clear the bar thousands of times.  He has learned to reflect on and learn from his failures to figure out new approaches to clear the next height.

If he had taken his first failure at the age of 5 as an utter disaster and given up, his personal best would probably be about 40cm.

If you can learn to enjoy failure, to reflect on it, to see the good things that happened as part of the failure, two things happen.

First, life becomes a pleasure all the time, not just when you succeed.

Second, you’ll learn more quickly and find success more easily in the long run

Sometimes in the high jump you’ll fail.  If you can enjoy that failure and learn from it, you’ve succeeded in breaking the rules.

Over to you

  • What rules do you follow in life?
  • Where did they come from?
  • What would happen if you broke all the rules?

Photo credit: Selective Focus Photography,  Lord Jim (Flickr Creative Commons)

Related posts:

  1. Change your Story, Change your Life
  2. How to Think Big for your Life and Career – 5 lessons from Rudyard Kipling
  3. Life's Too Short to be Ordinary
  4. Break free – Learn to beat procrastination for good
  5. The Lost Art of Being Happy – 5 Steps to a Happier Life


  1. Phil
    June 22, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    What rules do you follow – and which ones do you break?

  2. June 22, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Funny how most people give you this condescending look when you break the rules and that they’re baffled when you get better results or more happiness than they do because of it. Priceless.
    .-= Eduard @ People Skills Decoded´s last blog ..Stop trying to control your emotions! =-.

  3. June 22, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Funny how most people give you this condescending look when you break the rules and that they\’re baffled when you get better results or more happiness than they do because of it. Priceless.
    .-= Eduard @ People Skills Decoded´s last blog ..Stop trying to control your emotions! =-.

  4. June 23, 2010 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    Hi Phil!

    My rebellious personality LOVES this post. Fun.

    Great rules to break. Trying to be perfect has ruined more lives. What’s perfect anyway? No such thing. Just another illusion to keep folks down. I love going for the failure too! Again, what’s failure? We learn a lot from so called failure, whatever it is!

    Thx. Giulietta
    .-= Giulietta the Muse´s last blog ..Why don’t more adults play with abandon? =-.

  5. June 23, 2010 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    Hey Phil, how’d you get to be so wise anyway? :)
    I am going to use your quote on 90% of the time failure to make sure I am trying hard enough…Hey I started spinning/cycling after an 8 year gap and it’s not like I wasn’t keeping myself fit but let me tell you that it has been extremely humbling and I am at the BOTTOM of the class in terms of endurance….and between us, I want to be in the top 10% in the next 6 months. Wish me luck and I am gonna follow your rules…

  6. June 23, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Hey Phil,

    * What rules do you follow in life?
    * Where did they come from?
    * What would happen if you broke all the rules?

    1. I follow the rule of not taking life to seriously. I did some stand-up comedy last night and it didn’t go great but I didn’t let it worry me. I laughed at myself and how badly I did…I know I’ll do better next time and there’s always something to be learned. I user something similar to buzz lightyear…he doesn’t fly, he falls with style, I don’t fail, I successfully fail!

    2. It came from years of learning that I don’t need to be hard on my self. It serves no purpose in my life. I am hard where I need to be, e.g. I’m just being blatantly lazy…or if things go wrong not of my doing, I just don’t worry

    3. What few rules I have a I break often but there are a few I stick to. like writing and keeping creative and congnitive juices flowing to keep me razor sharp.
    .-= Amit Sodha – The Power Of Choice´s last blog ..Friday Fun – Radio Show Wind Up =-.

  7. June 23, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Someone once told me, “there’s no such thing as failure, only feedback.” I love that! So, 90% of the time I’m getting valuable feedback that I can build on towards the 10% success.
    .-= Topi´s last blog ..5 reasons to wake up early =-.

  8. Phil
    June 23, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    @Eduard – the last time I checked, there is no rulebook for life! There are definitely some unwritten ones out there that can constrain the ability to be successful and enjoy life. Love the fact that you think past convention and find ways to live a remarkable and happy life.

    @Giulietta – you always question everything and I knew this post would appeal to you. Thanks for the inspiration!

    @Farnoosh – thanks! To be fair, that quote comes from the 1970s from some of the pioneers of the computing field – I’ve seen it attributed to a few of them, so I can’t take credit. Take Javier’s example on the cycling and keep working away with a few failings and you’ll soon be top of the class!

    @Amit – great wisdom – not taking things too seriously means we can treat success and failure as the two imposters they really are. Sure your stand-up is coming along and you’ll have them rolling in the aisles soon.

    @Topi – success comes all the time when you keep on trying. I’m sure you get 100% success from all your hard work and dedication. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. June 24, 2010 at 1:09 am | Permalink

    I really resonate well with this quote you have on this post. “If you’re not failing 90% of the time, you’re not trying hard enough.” It reminds me to continue to push forward when I’m making my own mistakes. The only rule I really break honestly I guess, is not really a rule, but a cultural norm. And that is thinking outside of the box, and always believing in myself. A lot of times we think as a society that we are limited human beings and we strucutre that in a form of rules of what can and can’t be done, very much like the video you have of the man raising the bar and achieving that, when it wasn’t concieved as possible. I guess I’m a rebel in that sense. :) Helpful article!

  10. June 24, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    I have always been career driven so when I quit my job two months ago to pursue living in Annapolis, MD it was breaking the rules for me. I have always wanted to live there and decided it was time to make a go of it. Luckily I own a small wickless candle company but it was scary to leave my career behind!

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