When Should Rules Rule?

The temptation among many creative types is to say, “Ignore the rules. Make your own rules. DOWN WITH ALL RULES! We are Too XYZ for stinking rules!”

Indeed if you are caught following a rule or a convention, you are not an artist, writer, filmmaker. You become a sell out.

Take it easy. Let’s back up a bit.

I tend to think that breaking a rule simply for the sake of breaking it is not only foolish, but a tad boring. Refusing to conform to the rules 100% of the time in every circumstance is just being obnoxious, and to an ironic extent, conformist. Rules should never be broken for their own sake. Not because they are sacrosanct, (though there will be consequences for breaking them, like it or not.) But because to break rules indiscriminately doesn’t challenge you. Your decision at every step is easy; “Break the rule!”

But truly knowing yourself and understanding where you want to go and who you want to be requires better discernment than that. It requires effort. It requires a true understanding of what rules are, and why a specific rule is threatening who you want to be, and how you want to proceed in life.

The great visionaries of the world were almost exclusively rule breakers. But they didn’t sit in a room one day before they were renowned and say, “Whatever is expected of me, I am going to do the opposite of it. Just so I can be hip.”

No. Rule breakers that we admire became so because they were aware of what their hearts told them. They lived by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s edict, “Don’t die with your music still in you.” And if following their music meant that boundaries were crossed or rules were broken, then so be it.

But the key is that they knew themselves well enough to understand the reasons for their rejection of the rules. Some visionaries did end up breaking almost all of the rules within their sphere. Some broke a few. Some actually only broke one single rule, but did so at a crucial time in history. A time when a confluence of personal passion, cultural readiness, and contemporary like-minded people brought about a paradigm shift.

None of which would have happened if their actual goal had merely been to “break all the rules, all the time.”

Learn from the entirety of their example. Make sure you observe when they followed the rules, and what rules they followed, and why, in addition to when and how they broke the rules. Find out which rules help you be true to yourself, and which ones hinder it. And if doing something in the conventional way speaks to you the most, by all means follow convention! It will not be the end of your creativity and your power. Indeed, it will be the beginning of your honesty with yourself about how you work. And that will be the very first step toward your greatest potential.

When you reach that point, no rule can stop you.


  1. Well said. I don't have anything to add or dispute, but wanted to acknowledge reading.

    Liked the first point the most. Breaking rules for the sake of breaking rules is becoming boring.

  2. Thank you for your comment, and for reading the blog! I hope you will continue to do so in the future.

  3. Your entire post speaks of this sentiment, but it might be useful to plainly state the obvious. That is, breaking the rules has become a rule for our generation. Quite an ironic little contradiction, no? As you rightly said: boring!

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