Set Your Own Rules

Ubt-book You really don't have to sign up to do what others think one should do to succeed. In fact, most of the time that's a sure path to disappointment, because they are setting the pace, and you cannot possibly know or have what they have under the hood.

It's much more fun changing the game. 

My friend Chris Guillebeau did the honors this week by celebrating the fourth anniversary of this blog. He graciously agreed even though he is about to come to a city near you for the launch of his first book The Art of Non Conformity (Amazon affiliate link). Buy it and read it, it will change your life.

He changed mine. I fell in love with Chris and his ideas when I happened upon his first manifesto for world domination. We don't talk about love enough in social media. And when we do, we do it in that vague, general way we use words like "great", "fabulous", "terrific". Nothing wrong with the words, just their wholesale use.

As if attaching them to the most mundane statements could make our actions more effective, change the world somehow. How can we do that and skip the phase where we change ourselves first? Setting your own rules doesn't mean dominating the conversation, being the only one with the answers.

It means changing yourself first. Which means you need to decide to start with love, respect, compassion, understanding, and a healthy dose of persistence for the work ahead. You cannot build momentum unless you start. So start now.

I've broken all the rules

The book is a very fast read the first time you pick it up. You go back to it again, trust me, and Chris is a natural storyteller. Did you see his TEDx talk? On page 9 of the book, you will find 11 ways to be unremarkably average. It looks like I've broken all the rules. Let's see how I stack up.

1. Accept what people tell you at face value
My favorite questions since a very tender age has been "why", so much so that my elementary school teacher told my mother she should give me pills to keep me quiet. I kid you not. To her credit, mom responded that the teacher should take them, so she could deal with me.

2. Don't question authority
Questioning authority is a long time mantra of mine. Implied authority that is. I have no problem with earned respect and loyalty, just the "assumed" kind. Which is the reason why I have been an eager student of how influence moves through networks and between people.

3. Go to college because you're supposed to, not because you want to learn something

I finished university for a different reason than I had when I started it. In fact, I pretty much did all of the things you're not supposed to do throughout my school years — I didn't limit my learning to the homework, I didn't specialize, I was always eager to break things apart and put them back together in other ways, etc.

4. Go overseas once or twice in your life, to somewhere safe like England

My advantage on travel was growing up in Europe. Cross a border in a few hours, and you're facing a different culture and language.

5. Don't try to learn another language; everyone else will eventually learn English
I actually had a very hard time learning English. I started late, and was terrible at it until I upped and moved to the US with no money and a job with room and board included that was barely paying for movie tickets and dinner every so often.

6. Think about starting your own business, but never do it

Starting my own business was fun. I do like working with others though — missed the learning with team while doing part.

7. Think about writing a book, but never do it
I am writing a book. So there.

8. Get the larger mortgage you qualify for and spend 30 years paying for it
All done with the mortgage payments. And I find that the things I need are more the kind of quality time with friends and loved ones vs. stuff more and more. The best way not to depend on others is financial freedom. Pay down your debt.

9. Sit at your desk 40 hours a week for an average of 10 hours of productive work
Productivity rules. All I'm going to say here is that being centered on work you love is key. If you cannot love the environment and need to be in it, find a way to love the work. It helps tremendously.

10. Don't stand out or draw attention to yourself
Many a whack-a-mole game has been played with me as the person sticking out, for all of the reasons above.

11. Jump through hoops. Check off boxes

Shame on the people who expect that of you. That's all I'm going to say here.


It wasn't really Chris that made me do all of those things. He reminded me why I am doing what I'm doing. His work helped me refocus on my world-changing mission, and the work I still need to do on myself to get there.

What about you? How are you going to set your rules?


Buy the book (affiliate link) and come out to meet Chris in Philadelphia next week (September9). Find the directions here. I'll be there.

Additional resources:

For your own path to world domination, you might want to check out the world domination kit (affiliate link).

[Disclosure: I received a copy
of The Art of Non Conformity from Chris Guillebeau and I intend to buy a bunch for my close network
. This review and
recommendation is based upon the quality of
the material — and not on how I obtained it.

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0 responses to “Set Your Own Rules”

  1. Funny, just last night I told my first-grader that we would work on “challenge words” every week with homework – even though the rule is that you only do challenge words if you pass Monday’s spelling pretest.
    Now, he’s a good reader, and he catches on quickly, and I think the best way for him to learn spelling rules is to practice them (like me, he gets caught up in story while we read). Also, I want him to learn that it’s good to go beyond the rules for learning’s sake.
    For myself, well, I’ve never been a good conformist. I’ve tried, and it never quite works out, because for every rule there are 100 more unspoken ones behind it. Those are the ones I never intuited, quite possibly because they make no logical sense.
    I’m still carving out a niche — those who would have you conform are threatened by lack of conformity — but confident I can make it work… thanks in large part to cool folks like you and Chris. 🙂

  2. Valeria, I just spent the better part of the last hour catching up with your blog and then linked over to Chris’s site. What an awesome and inspiring read!
    I’m one who, for the most part, has played by the rules my entire life. While I understand intellectually that the rule-breakers are the trend-setters and creators of wealth and prosperity, keeping within the lines of society’s (and my family’s, and my parent’s) expectations seems just to be hard-wired into my DNA. I need to be more conscious of what “rules” I’m unthinkingly and unconsciously following, and consider how best to add value in the years ahead.
    Ciao, e tanti auguri,

  3. I very much enjoyed reading this post Valeria. Point 1 – accept what people tell you at face value – brought me back to my university years when I was a journalism student. I had a teacher who ran us through a drill that I will never forget: Ask “why” to a statement as many times as you can to reveal the deepest truth. The drill lasted three hours, but I’ll never forget the final answer “…because my mother made me.” Other than that, I couldn’t agree more to your answer to point 9 – “productivity rules.” For me, finding reasons why I should care and why others should care about what I do is the key to my best work.

  4. @Lance – glad you’ll check his book out. I’ve gotten a lot out of it and I’ve been reading the blog all along.
    @Christa – the way I see it, if it doesn’t exist and you see the need or want to, make it happen. There is nothing more attractive than finding a simple solution for a problem, making someone’s life easier or more inspired. The unremarkable rules tend to be complicated and fixed, confronting a constantly changing reality. Good on you about being more creative with homework!
    @Frank – it’s my mother’s fault, you know. She taught me that I should look for my answers and not blindly accept hers. It’s an interesting journey that way. I’m not sure it’s easier, though. I find it helpful to use the simple question “is that true?” when I sense I’m getting into default thinking mode. Thank you for the auguri 😉
    @Alexandra – that’s too funny! My mother made me scrap all the old rules and rethink how I should be as a woman and professional. That was quite huge from someone born and raised in a vary Catholic family and taught that as a woman you learn how to cook, run a house, and raise a family. Imagine what she would have done had she been in a different environment. The more I think about it, the luckier I feel. The other thought on productivity is carving out space to be creative, let your mind roam and relax… we probably do less of this.

  5. It looks like I would pretty much break a lot of those rules myself.
    I particularly liked the 9th one.
    I strongly believe you have to love what you’re doing and WHERE you’re doing it, I even wrote a post on my blog about it, that’s the key to efficiency and productivity in my opinion.
    Nice read 🙂

  6. Gabriele:
    Indeed, if you’re planning to be dispersive, there are plenty of better places to do that. Walking in a park, exercising, meeting up with friends, etc. Good to meet you in the comments, btw.

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