At my core, due to my upbringing, I am a rule follower. I can hear my mother now, “Good little girls are polite, look pretty, wait their turn.” Can you hear your own mother, father, grandmother, schoolteacher? It’s a common lament of women, we have been taught to follow the rules. I am not proposing anarchy. Or am I? I love the quote from Katharine Hepburn, “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” I was always considered a “Goody Two Shoes”! In 6th grade, we were allowed to walk home for lunch but not go anywhere else. One day a group of kids decided to walk to a local café for lunch, strictly forbidden, and I summoned all my courage and went. Someone ratted us out and we were to be punished. I was giddy to be part of the rebel group. However, when the time came time for the punishment, our principal didn’t put me in detention because she couldn’t believe I would be part of the insurrection. I was devastated and begged to get detention like all the rest of the gang. This shows how entrenched I was in following the rules. It has been a lifelong battle to resist this upbringing, as it can be such a career obstacle.
If you want to maximize your career, you must learn to break some rules for success. I would love to tell you I can do this blithely, but not so. I still feel some anxiety and queasiness, but I do it anyway! Sometimes I break a rule just to prove to myself that I still have it in me. Here are examples from my speaking career:
- I always advise, in advance, how a room is to be arranged. If you ever train or speak you know that this is essential. The seating can make or break a training. When real life sets in, the seating is often wrong. When I can find staff to fix the problem, I direct them in how to make changes. Sometimes, I change it myself. When I comment on this to others, they often express concern that I haven’t asked permission. My ultimate responsibility is to assure the event is successful, if it means breaking some rules, so be it.
- Meeting planners will sometimes request I speak on the stage and behind the lectern. That can be the kiss of death in connecting with an audience. I now will not even agree to it. In the past, there have been situations where I agreed but invaded the audience space anyway. That’s a rule I love to break.
- Have you noticed that conference participants often spread throughout a meeting room? For energy, connection, and activities it’s important for an audience to stay together. Consequently, I direct participants where to sit. In my traveling bag, I carry caution tape. Think of the type you see at construction sites. Taping off seats that I do not want occupied is common for me. I have had people shadow me to learn speaking and training techniques. It’s not uncommon to have someone ask, “Did THEY say this is ok?” I didn’t ask permission and don’t intend to. However, I will explain why it was necessary.
What are some of the rules that it makes sense to break?
- “You must pay your dues.” Just because you are new or young, doesn’t mean you have to wait to rise to the top or ask for the plum opportunities. Are you great at what you do? Then jump over everyone else. Might you hack people off? Yep! Might people say, “Who does she think she is?” Yep! Do it anyway.
- “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” There’s a proven way to ensure mediocrity! Shake things up, break that rule. Try new things, that’s how organizations evolve, stay ahead of the competition, and innovate.
- “Wait your turn.” Most recently, I have a couple of clients that have held back on asking to go to conferences because no one in their organization was sent during the pandemic. This seemed pushy to them. Push away! All that can happen is you hear, “No.”
- “Newbies keep your thoughts to yourself.” Diversity of age and tenure are smart ways companies are hiring. Organizations desperately need latest ideas, thoughts, and perspectives. Break that rule soon. You do not need to wait. In fact, when coaching women in their first professional position, I nudge them to speak up early in their career. Don’t wait until an arbitrary amount of time has passed. Make your mark from the beginning.
- “Work and play don’t mix.” Men have figured out this is ludicrous! It is the essence of the “Ole Boys Club”. Making business contacts and deals on the golf course isn’t just a story, it’s real. Some of my best opportunities and clients have come from conversations in social settings. I recently struck up a conversation at the nail salon with the woman next to me and it looks like an article for a magazine will be the result.
These are just a few of the rules that are worth breaking. You will think of more rules that apply to your situation. These obviously are not ethical violations or legal issues. These are perspectives, traditions, unwritten rules. Frequently, they are sexist at the foundation. If we didn’t eventually break the rules, women would still be wearing hats, gloves and dresses every day when they left their home. I think of Amelia Earhart, the stir she caused in breaking the rules of attire. She wore PANTS! She flew airplanes! She was a rule breaker! Thank you, Amelia and all the other women who have gone before us breaking rules so we could thrive in life and in the workplace.
Are you sabotaging your career as a rule follower? It’s not your fault, you are just following the rules, LOL! If your career is being held back due to adherence to some unwritten, arbitrary set of rules, or other behaviors, there is help. Let’s talk. Did you know that High-Heeled Success offers 45-minute complimentary telephone consulting? Email Kay@highheeledsuccess.com or call 513-561-4288 to set a time to assess your situation.