The RIGHT Time To Break Rules: Getting Your Needs Met Personally & Professionally
“Do it” I told her. “Just be smart about it.”
Looking sheepish she replied “But I might get in trouubbblllee”. Her lower lip dropped to over exaggerate the joke, jaw quivering. She was serious. This was a 31 year old woman, actually nervous to do something completely innocuous, totally harmless and commonly done at our job in order to stave off her boredom, that may or may not be breaking a rule but certainly wouldn’t cause any trouble.
Who is making decisions here?
Boy did I feel for the poor girl. I say ‘girl’ because it wasn’t the strong woman in her making a personal decision. It was the little girl in her anticipating trouble and desperately avoiding disapproval. Scared, wanting to please any and all authority figures, needing to be validated as respectable and reliable, even if it meant betraying her own needs and proclivities. In this case: being bored to death at her own place of work.
I recognized the feeling in her body, and her face in the moment. I’m guilty of the same; not wanting to push boundaries or challenge convention whether I know the ‘rules’ or not - let alone whether the ‘rules’ made sense or were fair - in order to avoid disappointing other people. It was only recently that I realized in doing so, in being so conforming and abiding that I was willing to be bored, underserved, underutilized or under appreciated in professional and personal relationships, I was making other people’s needs more important than my own. More so, I was saying to the world, to my own life, that my opinion of right and wrong wasn’t as valid as someone else’s, and that I didn’t have a right to shift or reorganize things/situations/expectations around me in order to fit my highest good.
When is the right time to challenge or even break the rules?
If the recent climate has taught us anything, it’s that an authority title doesn’t ensure wisdom, and often actually embeds the opposite. A power struggle. A need to dominate and make others feel inferior by arbitrary decision making and rule setting. That can happen in politics, it can happen in the office (like shown in this article on gender bias administered in 'housewife' roles at work, via WSJ ). It can even happen in romantic relationships when the power balance (reflected in who respects whom more, who puts in more time and effort, whose needs are more important) is offset by one partner putting the other on a pedestal.
As in all things, the truth lies in the great balance: there is a time to abide by social rules, and there is a time in which women are now seizing in the zeitgeist, to realize that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and that testing boundaries as a way to explore the limits of personal and external potential is necessary. The bud must challenge the soil to grow. You and I must challenge our partners to form to our needs in love. Not unlike our child selves, toddlers exploring the physical realm, there has to be a healthy sense of malleability and the self assuredness to know that our place in the world is secure, and in our right to mold our lives as our minds and hearts necessitate. When we become too scared to do that because the authorities we’ve disappointed in the past have scolded us, the little wounded child inside whispers ‘better not’ when a chance like this woman’s at work presents itself.
Regardless of gender, race, political persuasion, we must be our own strongest advocate and even be willing to strike discord if we are to conform our work and relationships to fit our needs. The willingness to do so should absolutely come from the self-preserving knowledge that our needs are valid, and that we have every right to live in roles and dynamics that suit us personally. Because we matter. Because what we contribute is of value. Because we deserve it, as much as any and everyone else. If we hold that credo in mind for ourselves, we can hold it for other people especially those we love.
As a cheap and trite example, if I go out dancing and completely accidentally inflict fear and insecurity in who I’m dating, I’ve unknowingly pushed a boundary. That’s not a problem: I haven’t broken a rule, I’ve simply hit a trigger and the relationship needs the open space of communication to examine where the fear comes from and how to rest it assured so as to make both partners comfortable. Similarly, especially in creative fields, any individual needs to understand a general framework of expectation but be able to explore the far reaches of the fences in their field, so as to see where new paths, new boundaries, and personal ways of functioning in the environment can be formed.
I’ll admit I failed to do this recently in a personal relationship, and months later realized I’d let us both down. By not saying what I needed with conviction, worried it would challenge or annoy him so much he’d walk away, wanting to be convivial and easy to love, I held my tongue. What happened was a fear and instability in my place within the relationship that led me to looking crazier than necessary. But hey, we’ve all been that girl, trying to be cool-calm-collected and of course effortless to love and adore. But in sacrificing my voice and wants, I became someone I wasn’t, and a not-person (a shell, a persona, trying to be a facade of someone we think we should be) we become impossible to love. Because dishonesty is just too hard to love.
How Can We Stop Sacrificing Ourselves to Please Others?
We are not robots. We’re human. But we’re damn good at programming ourselves like robots to betray ourselves for the sake of others.
No, not robots, we’re just individuals that are often simply too scared to upset others. This is an issue of codependency rather than empathy, as brilliantly examined in recent weeks by relationship expert Mark Groves. His resources as well as just about any book or even youtube video on codependency (or this article) is a great start to changing the programming. But it’s not just fear, is it. ‘Too scared’ to challenge the rules, state needs and possibly disappoint someone is too simplistic a view. Examine, for a moment, that such fears are spawned from holding other people in higher regard than ourselves, thus disappointing them would mean seeing the disparity between them up there, and ourselves as lower, less worthy beings who make mistakes.
And if you’re a woman reading this and thinking “Yes BUT if I tell my boss/partner what I need, s/he’ll call me difficult, annoying, needy, and might even leave me.” Then trust me, I feel you on that too. I’ve been there.
Here’s a thought: if others cannot see and respect us as having needs that may differ from the norm - especially what a woman ‘should’ need or expect societally speaking - it doesn’t make us difficult or disappointing. It makes us human. Another person’s inability to see such needs and accommodate them doesn’t make them tyrannical, it makes them not fit companionship for the path you are ever walking. And that’s ok too. All you have to do is keep walking. And know that you tread the path yourself, you choose every step, you are forging the way. You’re making it your own. And you have every right to make that journey what you need, especially if you want to do it at your highest potential.
Because you matter. Because what you contribute is of value. Because you deserve it just as much as any and everyone else.
Where am I betraying myself (not speaking my needs, not expressing my wants, not advocating for myself and my potential) in my personal and professional relationships?
How can I strengthen my confidence in my contributions in this areas in order to have more conviction in expressing my needs?
Is the consequence of disappointing someone else greater than the cost I'm feeling of disappointing myself?