I am always fascinated by how we love rules, especially in our careers. Something in us just seems to crave structure. If it doesn’t exist, we create it. And if it does exist, we try to understand it.
We want to know the rules.
Even those renegades among us who like to think they live “without rules” really just mean they like to rebel against others’ rules they don’t like or find constricting, not so much against their own rules or ones they like. After all, to live without rules is essentially a rule in itself, and of course, if you really lived without them, you most likely would end up in jail or something like it anyway.
So we all live with rules. Some we create. Almost all we willingly submit to even if we don’t like them.
Yet, no matter how much we need rules or crave structure, they can make life pretty confusing at times, especially when it comes to our careers. I would say it is one of the biggest obstacles career changers face. It’s not qualifications, comfort zones, poor job markets, and even logistics that really hold people back. It is all their rules.
Most of them are the self-imposed kind, such as “I can’t leave because it would be disloyal.” (Says who?)
Occasionally some come from family or outside influences that have some kind of hold on the person, such as “A successful person makes such and such and works at such and such job.” (Since when are they experts?)
Still others are bred within the company the person works for, such as “you can only be promoted after X years and after achieving X level.” (Is this a written guarantee or just an opinion?)
In most cases, however, it is a combination of rules, intertwined like some type of religious legalism, that really has people bound up in chains. And they don’t see a way out.
But there is always a way.
And the answer isn’t “treat yourself better” or “be a rebel” or “screw everybody else.”
The answer is to live with purpose.
Sounds a bit cliché, I know, but it is true. Having a vision for your career puts you on a path, and that path is more than just about you. It is about all the people who are affected by you achieving your goal: your family, your community, your co-workers. It isn’t solely financial based or benefits based or work-life balance based. It isn’t about odd ideas about loyalty and meeting company criteria.
Instead, it is about creating a structure that is actually positive, that might even leave a legacy of some kind, instead of feeling like your career (much less your life) operates inside an emotional prison facility.
Now, you might be thinking, “OK, so how do I find my purpose?” Isn’t that the million-dollar question?
In my mind, finding your purpose isn’t really all that hard. What is much harder is being honest about what motivates you.
Listen. The reason we get into these complex webs of legalistic rules where pretty soon we aren’t sure where we are going anymore is because we have some pretty poor motivators.
The foundation is all wrong. And we aren’t willing to change it.
We may have good reasons for these motivators. We may rationalize them all we like. But essentially, we stick with what we know even if we don’t like it because something in it (or maybe a few somethings) is driving us, and there’s a payoff, even if it is a negative one. We might be miserable in the process, but that’s OK as long as our motivations are being fed.
Without question, fear is the number one motivator for most people…even if they don’t like to admit it.
And rules provide a great forum for fear to thrive.
Think about it. It’s so much easier to say that you are stuck living up to someone’s else expectations than simply to admit that you are really just afraid to fail.
I mean if you step out and go after that purpose, you just might fail, right?
The problem, of course, is that by doing nothing, you have already failed.
But, then again, at least you still have your rules and there’s so much comfort in that.