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Re-evaluating “can” and “can’t”

February 25, 2010

In What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 (affiliate link), Tina Seelig writes,

“It is better to know the few things that are really against the rules than to focus on the many things you think you should do.” (p. 49-50)

The book–which is quickly becoming one of my favorites, both in terms of inspiration and in terms of brain food–focuses on reevaluating the status quo, challenging the “rules,” and using your innate creativity to come up with solutions to problems big and small.

The unbreakable rules for every job and every industry are a little bit different, but chances are, for your industry, you know what they are. I challenge you to take some time to think about it though. Really sit down and make a list of the few things that you absolutely cannot do. I say “few” because generally, there really are only three or four.

Seelig tells this story:

“…about two student fighter pilots who got together to share what they had learned from their respective instructors. The first pilot said, “I was given a thousand rules for flying my plane.” The second pilot said, “I was only given three rules.” The first pilot gloated, thinking he was given many more options, until his friend said, “My instructor told me the three things I should never do. All else is up to me.”

So write your list, and once you have that list, take everything you think you “should do,” and if it isn’t one of the things on that list, throw it out the window. Challenge your assumptions about “can” and “can’t” and see what kind of solutions you can generate when you do.

And the great thing is, you can do the same thing with life.

What are the “rules” in life that we can’t break?

  • Don’t kill people.
  • Don’t steal.
  • Don’t endanger the lives or well-being of others.

Everything else is fair game.

I’m not proposing libertarianism, or anarchy here, and I certainly don’t want to get into a philosophical debate about what it means to not endanger the “well-being” of others, or whatever (actually, I think that debate is fascinating, but it’s not the point). The above list is just an extreme example designed to shake the ingrained suppositions we all make about what we can and can’t do in society.

When it comes right down to it, if you’re trying to generate ideas and create solutions, so long as your solution doesn’t involving killing someone, stealing, or endangering the lives of others, you’re probably good. So just put it all out there, and see what happens.

Who says you’re too young to be taken seriously? Who says you have to have a degree to be sucessful? Who says you have to wait for someone else to do it first so you know the way?

No one, that’s who. Well, actually, a lot of people, but you don’t have to listen to them. That’s the point.

Know the rules you absolutely can’t break. The rest is up to you.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. spreadsheets4me permalink
    February 25, 2010 12:19 pm

    http://xkcd.com/706/

  2. lostcommander permalink
    March 4, 2010 3:07 pm

    Other places, people, and times were, are, and will be different, and that is okay, so let them be unless they ask you to interfere.

    Work only to improve and maintain, never to diminish, all wealth and value.

    Pay for our grandparents’ mistakes and excesses, leave more for our children then was left to us, and never forget that we are making our own mistakes that they will have to repair even though we will not know them until our time is over.

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