Keep calm and break the rules

We start out this life infinitely curious, with no regards for should or shouldn’t. We are unruly, wild, overly dramatic and poop all over the place. We point and laugh at people, scream when we’re mad, ask why until we get our parents annoyed. 

We are creative. Creating naturally, ideas never ending. We question everything. 

Slowly, we are taught how culture and society works. We enter school and begin our road to being a responsible citizen. 

We’re taught

1. Follow the rules
2. Don’t question the rules
3. Don’t be different

Points which makes society easier to rule. A homogeneous group of kids accepting and following the rules are easier than obnoxious, diverse ones who don’t care what you think. The same goes for citizens.

But what happens to you when you are easy to rule?

Creativity shrinks. 

I was very creative as a kid. Being shy and a little bit different, I failed point 3. I was better at point 2, but I still couldn’t help but question the rules in my mind. I hated math, because we were supposed to follow the rules blindly. But - I was quite good at it. As a shy and unpopular kid, being a teacher’s pet was safe. So I excelled in following the rules. 

While I got better and better at understanding and following instructions, my creativity shrank. I developed a knack for figuring out internal logics, scanning subjects and understanding central points and how they fit together. First only for school subject, still being a shy, slightly odd bookworm. But later on, as a teenager, I unconsciously started applying this to people and soon learned how to blend in. I learned the social rules of different groups, adjusted to them. After a while, I was a good social chameleon, a shy one who blended in, a wallflower. I wrote, but I followed the rules. School had succeeded.

When we’re grown up, we often mourn for our childhood’s lost ability to create on a daily basis. We attend courses to get back that creativity, and what do we do? 

We follow a set of rules to be creative. 

Do you know how crazy that is? We have rules for what creativity is. What it looks like. Who a creative person is, how he or she looks and lives. We have millions of courses all over the world teaching the exact craft of a novel structure, or a painting technique, or how to sound exactly like someone else.

That isn’t creativity.

I’ve gotten so good at following rules, I need to consciously stop myself from searching for and following them. I need to deliberately start to listen to the voice inside of me that I’ve strangled over the years, the one saying this sounds like bullshit and I don’t want to. Because sometimes, the ones dictating the rules doesn’t know best. 

Growing up, we learn that there is a right way. That if we just do as everyone else says, we’ll be fine. That we don’t know best, someone else does. We wait for permission to do what we want. We hide our dreams that don’t fit in with society’s view of a good citizen. We’re conditioned not to listen to ourselves first.

So we do everything right, stay in school, cut our hair, get stable jobs, become adults but we’re not happy. And we keep waiting for someone to tell us what to do. If we’re lucky, we somewhere along the way realize that we’re all just winging it. That nobody really knows what they’re doing. If you want something, you can’t wait for permission or someone to tell you what to do. You have to go and get it. And the punishments of our childhood probably won’t come if you decide to quit your job and pursue a life as a nomad. Maybe your social network of other obedient people might frown and talk behind your back. But it’s still a viable option. Really.

If we want to experiment and get creative, we need to make a choice. To stop listening to what everyone else is saying, and start listening to what we’re trying to tell ourselves. We need to shut off the whole world screaming advice, stop trying to make sense of the thousands of lists with The 10 Rules To A Happy And Creative Life. 

Because you know what?

You can’t get creative by following rules.

You need to go within and start to awaken your own voice. The one you pushed down, the one who wants to make up new rules. The obnoxious one. 

Yes, rules are often made for a reason. But for what reason, and what’s the alternative? Sure, if you need to refine your techniques, do the checklists and instructions. But if it’s creativity you seek, you need to stop. 

Creativity is looking at the rules, squinting and tipping your head to the side. Asking, what is this really about? What happens if I change this but keep that? Or take that thing there to replace this?

Creativity is my dad fixing a lamp with a birthday cake candle holder. He never went to school. But he was a teacher, and a good one. 

Creativity isn’t being an expert. It’s questioning the rules, twisting, bending or even breaking them. Throwing them out the window to start fresh.

Saying fuck you, rules.