Rules of Adulthood Revisited

July 16, 2018

Way back in 2010, when I first read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, I seized on the concept of Rules of Adulthood. At that time, mine included:
  • There is time enough
  • Live joyfully
  • Be Kathy
  • Put on your big girl panties and deal with it
  • Pause before you say no
  • It is what it is
  • Rise to the occasion
  • I am enough
  • Slow down—faster isn’t better
  • Progress, not perfection
  • Help is everywhere
  • What would I do if I wasn’t scared?

There’s been a lot of figurative water under the bridge since then, including my turning 50—howisthatevenpossible? Now that I’m, ahem, so mature, I've been toying with the idea of revising my Rules of Adulthood for my new stage of life (midlife-no-kids-at-home-but-not-quite-retired).

One of the issues I commonly deal with now is worry about the future. As I get older, I see my parents and in-laws aging and coping with various physical and emotional challenges. I worry about losing my husband. About becoming ill myself. After Scout’s death hit me hard, I worry about losing Tank, Prudy, and Luna, knowing that there's no guarantee they will live the long life Scout did.

Milestones keep coming, but they’re not fun ones like college, marriage, and starting a family. More like colonoscopies, bereavement, and loss of physical vitality!

Wait, where was I?

Oh, yes, Rules of Adulthood. To combat these worries, I some additions to my original Rules of Adulthood:

  • Everything is figure-out-able (courtesy of Marie Forleo). Instead of stressing about what might (or might not) be ahead, believe that I’ll be able to figure it all out when the time comes.
  • Life is not a competition.
  • Be easy with yourself. After all these years, trust that you are a good and decent person, even when you make mistakes. (See next rule.)
  • Everyone is doing the best they can--including you.
  • Quality, not perfection. Perfection is unattainable, but you’re almost always able to live and work with quality.
  • See the funny side. Because laughing is better than crying. Usually.
  • Don’t immediately label things that happen to you as “good” or “bad”

It’s good to review the way we think from time to time. As we age, ideally we’re becoming wiser, kinder people. As we experience more, we learn to see other peoples’ points of view. Maybe we soften, maybe we grow stronger. Life is a work in progress, and though change is sometimes scary and hard, sometimes it’s just what we need.

Do you have Rules of Adulthood you live by? Please share in the comments!


When Rules Don't Rule

October 05, 2015

Photo courtesy Ryan McGuire

“One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.”
—Bertrand Russell

I’ve been a good girl all my life. I (mostly) obeyed my parents, got good grades, did my best to fit in and please others. As an adult, I generally follow the rules, even if no one is watching. And while I think it is a good idea to be a law-abiding citizen, rules—especially unwritten, unspoken ones—can be taken too seriously. They can lock us into behaviors and beliefs that aren’t true, don’t serve us, and don’t reflect our deepest values.

Rules can become tyrants. Here’s an example: Last week, I returned a DVD to the library without watching it, thus breaking my unspoken rule: once you check something out, you must read/watch it. When I dropped the DVD into the return slot, I felt a sense of relief and freedom all out of proportion to the act. This made me wonder, what other unspoken rules complicate my life and keep me from the happiness I want?

I know I can be too rigid. What am I afraid of? That once freed from my rules I’ll run wild? Maybe. “Without rules, we may feel more vulnerable as if the looseness and lack of structure will lead us toward defeat,” wrote Leslie Levine in Ice Cream for Breakfast. “But rules can also be constricting, keeping us from stretching or even soaring every once in a while. If we can improvise—make up the rules as we go—it becomes easier to reach a middle ground, a place where rules help us grow and thrive.”

In her book Life Is a Verb, Patti Digh tells a funny story about the time she tried to order toast and a side of avocado slices in the middle of the afternoon at a restaurant and was told by the waiter that it would break all the rules to serve her those things—it was past toast time, and sides were only available with entrees. There are “toast rules”? she wondered.

She wrote, “It’s one thing to acknowledge the absurdity of other people’s rules; it’s another thing altogether to recognize and own the absurdity of the rules we’ve made up (helpful hint: They’re all made up, some so ingrained that we can no longer see they are Toast Rules). So when a rule pops to the surface, see it for the Toast Rule it is, made up to serve some social norm that is itself made up—or to serve the convenience of a waiter, where waiter stands for ‘person’ or ‘group.’”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “Rules are not necessarily sacred, principles are.” I think this is a useful distinction. I aspire to live by principles like treat other people the way you want to be treated and be kind. These reflect principles I value, that benefit me as well as others. Never return a book or DVD to the library without reading or watching it? Not so much.

Let’s examine our rules. Do they still work and have value? Rules often start with: I can’t or I should. Think twice every time those words start a sentence. We may be bumping up against a rule that no longer serves us.

Levine wrote: “Even our capacity for uncontrollable laughter is somehow diminished by the rules that govern adulthood. Instead of giving ourselves permission to be joyful and do the things that make us happy, we arbitrarily create rules that prevent us from enjoying as much as we can. So instead of lingering in the tub…, we bathe as fast as we can. Instead of celebrating our own birthdays…, we minimize the day and let it pass almost unnoticed. These made-up rules may give us some order in the short term but ultimately shortchange what could be a more fulfilling and fun life.”

What rules do you live by? What rules do you want to break?

“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.”
—Katherine Hepburn


One Size Fits...

January 28, 2013

During a recent purge of my son’s room, he handed me his bathrobe saying it didn’t fit. When I checked the label, it said “one size.” An obvious lie, as it does not fit my 6’1” beanpole son.

Advice is the same, have you noticed? Whether it’s advice on losing weight, animal training, child rearing, or how to increase your creativity, advice is everywhere—and much of it conflicts.

I’m happy to listen to advice (and some will tell you I’m also happy to give it). I’ve learned much from people who know more than I, saving me time and heartache. The advice is not the problem. The problem is when I put aside my own common sense or convictions to follow what someone else says I should do.

Guess what? There’s no “one right way” for everyone to do something.

Just as one-size-fits-all clothing doesn’t actually fit all (and aren’t we made to feel it’s somehow our fault it doesn’t fit?), one-size-fits-all advice doesn’t, either. Which doesn’t mean it’s not perfectly good advice for you, for me, for my best friend or my husband at some point. Sometimes it’s advice whose time has not yet come. Sometimes I recognize a piece of good advice, but I can’t follow it because my heart is just not in it.

Since I’m interested in self-improvement/educational type material and read a lot of it, in order to cope with the onslaught of advice, I’ve developed rules for taking it (or not taking it):

Does it make logical sense to me?

Is it possible to do without major disruption in my life?

Do I want to do it, or do I feel I should do it to please someone else?

Do I have to minutely follow complicated or multi-step instructions without deviation or else it “won’t work”?

Am I allowed to think for myself and ask questions without being made to feel that I’m stupid?

Keeping these rules in mind helps me gather the advice that will truly benefit me, and let go of what won’t. And that’s my advice on taking advice (but you don’t have to take it)!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? The worst?