Day 28: BREAK SOME RULES
It’s Day 28, and time to “Break Some Rules!” Welcome back to Confidence Boot Camp. We are in the final few days of this exciting journey together, and it’s hard to believe we are going to be finished soon. But we will never really be finished, will we? When I was a young adult, I had a Nike poster of a woman running through a redwood forest, with the caption at the bottom, “There is no finish line.” This is the way I think about confidence, too. It’s not a race, and we’ve certainly emphasized that there is not a final landing zone of confidence. It’s a daily practice, and some days you’re on top of the mountain, and some days you are trying to find your way back to the trail.
We’re especially excited about our topic today, “Break Some Rules”. When I was thinking about who might be the best expert on this topic, I instantly thought of Evelyn Espinal. Evelyn is a VP of HR in Supply Chain for Unilever in North, South, and Central Americas. You’ll see when you watch her in today’s video that she is passionate about challenging the status quo and finding ways to drive change in her organization. But Evelyn always has a methodology, and knows how to break rules that actually result in positive changes. Being “disruptive” requires that you have a pretty good idea where all the pieces will land, and you’re not just blowing things up to create chaos and confusion. We think you’ll love Evelyn and hope that you learn as much from her wisdom as we have.
What do we actually mean by “Break Some Rules”? Of course, you recognize that we’re not advocating for you to break laws, or do foolish things that put you or others in harm’s way. But if you look back through history, you’ll recognize that there are points in time where someone had to step out of the normal flow of life and say, “This isn’t working.” And if nobody listened or got involved, someone had to shout a little louder or do something that drew attention to the thing that needed to change.
Every time we have an election, I think about the suffragettes of the early 19th- and 20th- centuries in Britain and the U.S., who had to employ often extreme measures to gain support to secure the right to vote for women in each of these countries. When I have the lazy thought that my singular vote won’t really matter, I’m always grateful that someone posts a picture of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Facebook, reminding me that my apathy is arrogant, and someone came before me who worked hard, broke some rules, and gave me the right and the privilege to vote.
But breaking the rules doesn’t always have to be for big causes or monumental change. You can learn to break rules to challenge your own assumptions, expand your repertoire of skills, learn some new ways of thinking, and gain some valuable insights. Breaking your own rules can be as simple as taking a new route to work, trying a new hairstyle, traveling to another country, or talking to a stranger whom you would normally ignore. Breaking rules means stepping out of your comfort zone to see if there is anything interesting out there, and testing the limits of your tolerance to see what you might be missing.
Trying new things also lets you see how your neural paths have formed in your brain through learning and repetition (creating “rules”), and giving you the opportunity to see if there could be a better way. Try this exercise: Fold your arms across your chest as you normally would. Look down at your arms to see which one is on top and which one is folded under. Now undo the fold, and re-fold them so they are opposite what you normally do. Feels weird, doesn’t it?
(I am going to assume that if you’ve ever attended a conference or a workshop in which the primary topic was something to do with change, you’ve done this exercise, or some alternative form of it, before. Might be arm-folding, hand-folding, buttoning up/down, etc. The obvious message is that it’s really hard for humans to change, because change is uncomfortable.)
But I would like to venture a bet that while change can feel weird at first, it can also be kind of exciting and stimulating. That’s why breaking rules can also be fun and challenging, if we do it in a relatively safe and measured way.
If we identify what seems obvious now, rule-breaking requires some level of risk-taking, and people are very different when it comes to our individual risk tolerances. If you work with an investor, for example, he or she will usually start with having you complete a questionnaire that measures your financial risk tolerance. Your investor needs to know whether you are comfortable betting on riskier investments that may have a greater financial return (or a bigger loss, alternatively), or if you’re more comfortable with stable, slow-growth investments.
Do you see yourself as more risk-taking/rule-breaking, or more risk-averse and rule-conscious? The first question you might ask me, then, could be, “In what context do you mean?” Exactly. For example, I’m quite comfortable taking risks in getting up in front of groups and facilitating a workshop, but I’m not that adventurous with cooking or trying extremely exotic foods. My daughter-in-law loves to try new ways of teaching and challenging her first graders, but does not love to be in the spotlight on Back-to-School Night with their parents. We’re all different on different stages.
A SHORT GUIDE TO TAKING RISKS
Whatever your risk tolerance is, here are some simple ways you can push the limits of your comfort zone (in somewhat comfortable ways) and experiment with breaking some rules:
1. See your capabilities accurately
We’ve mentioned before that research tells us women often underestimate their abilities and want to be 100% certain or qualified before they’ll speak up or apply for a new position. Men, for the most part, are often more confident and over-estimate their capabilities. Get a realistic sense of both your capabilities and the situation by using The Frame, asking for Feedback from Trusted Advisors, and Gathering Evidence of Past Success. You have done many things successfully in the past, so you are probably more prepared than you think you are.
2. Evaluate the risk: Taking vs. not taking it
Breaking big “rules” or challenging policies or practices that are either institutionally or culturally ingrained can have a variety of consequences, so it’s very important that you anticipate the potential outcomes. Every risk you take comes with its own set of cost/benefit outcomes, so it’s important to be thoughtful and determine how you might handle worst-case scenarios. And having a backup plan is a good way to ensure that even worst cases are not potentially disastrous.
Here’s an example: Jean has been working as a community prevention educator for more than 10 years. She loves her job because it gives her a lot of autonomy, opportunity for creativity, and contact with children and adults at the “ground level”. She found out accidentally, however, that the new fresh-out-of-school colleague who came on six months ago is earning the same salary as she is. She has asked for a pay increase many times before, but she is always told the same thing: 1) We don’t have budget or 2) You would need to take on more administrative duties to be paid more.
Jean says the risk's outcome is not always clear to her. She understands the budget concerns of a non-profit organization, yet she knows what the new colleague is being paid. (She can’t reveal that she knows, however, because she learned it quite accidentally.) Once when she went to her boss to discuss a raise, she said she wanted to increase his attention to the inequity without threatening to leave. She brought him comparative salaries from other similar jobs in the field, and he said, “Let me know if you’re planning to leave, and then we’ll consider what to do then.”
While she was rather insulted by the insensitivity of his reaction and wanted to quit right then, she realized that the trade off of uncertainty (and his apparent lack of commitment to keeping her) was not worth the risk. She opted to stay and continue to enjoy the flexibility and creativity she was wanted, accepting the reality that she may be at the top of her pay grade in this non-profit job, and she is going to enjoy it until a better opportunity comes along. Are there other things Jean could do to break some rules or take bigger risks? Of course. But she decided not to this time.
3. Start small by practicing doing easy things differently
Notice your daily routines and see where you can be “disruptive” in your own life, just to practice.
- Always order vanilla ice cream? Choose chocolate this time, or even spumoni.
- Do you usually opt for a beach vacation at an all-inclusive resort? That’s fine, but venture out into the local city to try some authentic cuisine or culture on one or two days of your trip.
- Do you clock in at 8 and leave on the dot of 5 every day from your job? Consider negotiating with your supervisor coming in earlier or leaving later so you can take Wednesday afternoons off, just to get a little “me” time. Go to the movies, read your favorite book, catch up with your friends, or take up tennis.
You get the idea. Shake it up. Break up the routines of your life. Break your own rules.
We’re going to make this really easy because you’ve been working so hard all month long. It’s just ONE THING.
Look ahead at your plans for the next three days, and find ONE THING you could do differently to challenge your own process, disrupt your routine, or break your own rules. Suggestions are of the magnitude described above in #3 - Start small.
Happy rule breaking! (We hear the glass shattering now.) See you tomorrow, Confident Campers.
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