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Advice For Grads: Forge Your Own Path, Make Your Own Rules

Let’s face it: life is full of rules. Sometimes they are explicit, like the ones that governed much of your life as a student. How to address your teachers. How to format your essays. And how not to start three consecutive sentences with the word "how." Because, let’s face it, it breaks the rules of grammar.

But more often the rules that govern our lives are more nuanced; less black and white. They’re the rules about what you’re supposed to do with your life – from what you should study to the kind of person you should marry to where you should one day send your own kids to school. 

All of these rules are intended to help you live a happier life, to enjoy more success, experience less angst,  and fit in with the people around you.  However, as you look towards the rest of your life you have to be willing to challenge the rules that might otherwise limit what you do with it. Take for example the following rules I’ve heard repeatedly over the years:

• You must go to college.

• You must never quit.

• You must keep your options open.

• You must not break with tradition.

• You must  respect your parents’ wishes.

While these rules can provide useful guides when making decisions, if you’re at a cross-roads, or just not particularly enthused about the direction you’re headed, it may pay to take a step back and look at where you may inadvertently be holding yourself hostage to the rules and norms of your family or friends or the institutions that you’ve come from. Breaking the rules and making your own isn’t about belittling the rules of others.  It’s simply deciding to live life on your own terms.  To help you do that, here are a few ideas to try on for size. If you don't like them, ditch them. Like the rules, you should never follow them blindly.  

Chart Your Own Course

Just because you’re a fourth generation doctor, lawyer or farmer, doesn’t set your destiny in stone. And just because everyone in your family went to university does not mean it’s the best path for you. Just as there is no one right set of rules for everyone, there is no one right path that fits someone as unique as yourself. As Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg - all people who started college but dropped out before they’d finished. 

Do Your Groundwork But Trust Your Gut

When it comes to the big decisions in life, sometimes you have to stop all the analysis and just ask yourself what feels right for you.  If a certain path feels right, then it probably is. Sure, do your research, talk to people and get advice. But in the end, go with your gut and trust your intuition – it rarely lies and can be a valuable compass as you go through life. As Steve Jobs once said, " Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

Forget Perfect Decisions

Many young people put a lot of unnecessary pressure on themselves because they feel they have to make the perfect decision – whether on their course of study or first 'real' job out of school. However, no decision is ever wrong if you ultimately learn and grow from it. So just make the best decision you can with the information you have and then trust yourself that it will work out for you, no matter what.

When I was eighteen I left my parents’ farm to get a business marketing degree. I hardly knew what 'marketing' was but it sounded sort of glamorous to me at the time. After graduating I spent much of my 20's working in corporate marketing before deciding it wasn't for me and returning to college to study psychology. While I didn’t end up pursuing the path I initially embarked upon, the experience and knowledge I gained starting out working in Fortune 500 business has been invaluable to the work I do now.

Let Nobody ‘Should’ On You (Yourself Included)

Our “shoulds” are a mixture of the rules, expectations and values of our social groups. Whenever you hear yourself or someone else use the term "should," replace it with "could" and add in another option that appeals to you more. For instance, I could go to university or I could take a gap year to travel. It removes the judgment that one option is inherently better or more right than the other. 

Learn From Mistakes, But Never Let Them Define You

Sir Richard Branson once said, “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over."    Likewise, to expect that you will succeed the first time around on everything you try is a recipe for disappointment. Embrace a spirit of adventure as you set out, be open to giving something a go, and if it doesn’t work out, learn the lessons and move on.

Start Small; Build Bravery In Increments

It takes courage to resist the pressure to comply with the expectations others have for you. It takes even more courage to break the rules for establishing a career or building a business. Start by breaking some small rules and build from there. Make your own plans. Express your own style. Speak your own thoughts. Build your own life, and when other people’s rules aren’t working for you, make your own.

As much as people around you may want you to succeed, no one else but you is responsible for your happiness and creating your own definition of success.  So as you look toward the future, don’t allow yourself to be hemmed in by the rules that others live by. Sure, it may take courage to break apart from the pack. Sure, you may disappoint some people who care about you. And sure, you may sometimes make the wrong call. Who doesn't?!   Just know this: living the life you were born to live will sometimes require bending the rules.  And other times, it will require being brave enough to break them entirely. So be it. As Thomas Edison once said “Hell, there are no rules here - we’re trying to accomplish something!"

Article by: Margie Warrell

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