Is it time you dropped the “rules”?

Do you feel most comfortable playing by the rules?

If you’ve spent years in corporate, or had a career in a highly regulated field, chances are you’re accustomed to doing things the way they “should” be done. Navigating your way through complex regulations and guidelines…Going along with blatantly ridiculous company policies, or team building exercises, because that’s what was required of you…Or simply playing by the social rules of your industry – saying the “right” things, in the “right” way, to the “right” people, to achieve the desired result.

Do this long enough, and playing by the rules becomes engrained. Stepping outside the norm starts to feel awkward and uncomfortable. You could get yourself or someone else into trouble… you might stand out for all the wrong reasons.

Now when it comes to running your own business, the “rules” may be far less certain (and by rules, I’m not talking about legal requirements and taxes). Unless you’re operating in a tightly regulated field, many of us will have few real restrictions beyond personal integrity and ethics.

But that doesn’t stop rule-abiding types like me from creating our own confines. You take a few “shoulds”, add a couple of “can’ts”, a few “already-been-dones” and a “that-was-easy for-her”… You take course after course, study all the experts, learn the “right” timeframes for posting on social media, the required format of a lead magnet, the optimal content of a sales sequence…

Rules, rules, rules, rules, rules.

You’re soon operating in a nice little box that may feel safe and familiar. It’s just that your beautiful intuitive business idea starts to look like it fell out of a cookie cutter.

You fall into the comparison trap, wasting time on social media and paying far too much attention to what everyone else is doing, or how things “should” be done. Perhaps you’re afraid to try new ideas, or to let go of a product or service that bores you silly, but brings in steady cash flow.

You’re not earning enough and you struggle to get traction no matter what you try. So you get frustrated with these artificial limits and might even blame them for your struggles. If only I could… it doesn’t work for me… it’s easy for her…

Sound a little too familiar? Gulp. Me too.

Last week I experienced a stunning exposé of my ability to impose rules and restrictions upon myself – and how hard it can be to break free.

For the last 7 weeks, I’ve been taking an art class – Dream Big, Paint Big, with Angela Murray. We’re painting giant canvases, layer upon layer upon layer, following Angela’s intuitive prompts and experimenting with the techniques she teaches. The aims of the class are to connect with your soul, get “messy and wildly creative”, paint your dreams onto the canvas and then bring that creativity into your life and biz.

I’ll admit that getting all free and easy with the canvas has been challenging for me. Firstly, since I was a small child, I’ve believed I have no talent for art, so I don’t have a lot of confidence in my aesthetic sense.

Secondly, I was always a rule-abiding kind of a kid and that combined with my 13 years of legal study and practice, meant my natural comfort zone is lined with a lot of rules. Everyone knows where they stand. Just follow the rules and you’ll be okay.

Except that in Dream Big Paint Big, there are no rules. Ask Angela a right-or-wrong question and she’ll infuriatingly answer “Orange”.

Around week three, as I was staring at the canvas unsure what to do next, she suggested I stick to three colours. So I did. Diligently. For the next FOUR weeks. Then I looked around at the brightly coloured canvases of the other students and asked why she hadn’t given them the same instruction.

“Oh,” she replied. “I was only suggesting you stick to three colours for that one layer.”

My chin just about hit the floor.

In class specifically designed to throw restrictions and structure and expectation out the window, I had managed to superimpose a tight set of rules.

Not only that, but I’d managed to attribute them to my teacher, to ultimately hand her the power over my canvas. After all, if I was only following the rules the outcome wouldn’t be entirely my responsibility now, would it?

Ouch.

I’ll admit, I felt rattled by my willingness to artificially impose restrictions on myself and my work. Clearly the canvas has more to teach me, so I’ve signed up for Angela’s level two course. But for now there is one class left, and it’s tonight. I’ve ordered a whole lot of paint in different colours and I’ll be letting loose on that canvas.

Time to go break some rules.

And that’s my challenge to you this week. Where are you sticking by the “rules” in your business, or where have you created artificial restrictions where in fact there are none? What would you do if you were truly unafraid and unrestricted? Share your thoughts in the comments below – and tell me one area where you will break a “rule” this week.

If you need a safe place to practice breaking a few rules, come on over and join my new free Facebook group. There are dedicated Copy Clinics where you can get feedback on your work, weekly writing prompts to get you diving deep and connecting with your intuition, and fresh ideas for creating engaging content.  I’d love to see you there.

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