For the most part, I have always been a rule follower. I am the daughter of a former FBI agent—I was bound to be brought up with clear definitions of right and wrong. Even during a particularly rebellious streak in high school, I still managed to earn good grades, hold a part-time job and never get in trouble at school (and only get caught about a fraction of the time).
But still, I’ve always been a fan of setting down what was OK and what wasn’t. I had rules for boyfriends. There were age requirements and acceptable jobs and did-he-open-car-door-for-me expectations. I had rules for roommates. It had to be a girl (because why would I want to live with a dirty, smelly boy before I absolutely had to) and we had to be friends but not best friends and she always had to do her own dishes. I surrounded myself with friends who were essentially just like me: college educated, upper middle class, supportive families, successful and passionate. There were rules for my career, my family relationships, how long could go before I needed to send a thank-you note (I stand by that one needs to be in the mail within a week of receiving a gift or getting treated to lunch or even just meeting someone brilliant).
Breaking away from the life path that I had originally set for myself—success in PR, marriage and kids in Silicon Valley—was the first rule that I broke.
And then it seems like I kept breaking my rules, yet kept being rewarded. Lived with a guy in St Kilda, and he turned out to be the best flatmate I ever had. Worked as a bartender in France, and found a side job in a cooking school (wash the dishes, eat the meals, get the leftovers and get paid=utterly amazing). Stopped worrying about finding “the one” and had an adventure with someone who never opened my car door, but who met me at the airport with my favorite beer (complete with twist of lime).
There was a time when I never thought I’d go to Asia. Why go to crowded, smelly, backwards Asia when I could sip wine in civilized Paris or sun myself on a fancy chaise lounge on a private beach in Nice? Why bother to step out of my comfort zone, when I could be blissfully ignorant?
Asia has been full-on; it’s a heady mix of chaos and chili peppers, traffic and temples. Sometimes I love it: the street food carts, the smoothies, the smiles. And sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the smog and buzz of motorbikes, and worried about offending someone without knowing it (have I accidentally brushed against a monk on the street? Does sitting crossed-leg with my feet up break the foot taboo?).
A friend recently mentioned that I don’t seem like the same person I was a few years ago: I’m less uptight, more go-with-the-flow. I joke about my newfound hippie-ness: everything I own fits in three bags, I don’t own a real pair of shoes (flip-flops and Vibrams for the win!) and I have given up on straightening my hair.
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, as it goes. The more I give up on my “rules” and open myself up to what life has to offer me, I realize I thrive on new things. I used to order the same dish at every Italian restaurant: I knew what I was getting with capellini pomodoro, and I liked it. In Southeast Asia, I can’t imagine ever eating the same thing twice when there is so much to try. I usually don’t even know what I’m eating: I simply smile and try to look as hungry as possible, and eat whatever the street vendor decides to give me. And to be serious–it’s almost always better than I could have imagined.
Rules are there for a reason: I still believe that. But limiting ourselves to a life within set standards automatically limits growth and change and potential.
Break your rules. Try something new. Question everything. What’s the worst that could happen?