Giving Yourself Permission to Live Like You Really Want

Any other rule-followers out there? Hi. I see you, deep into your obedient and compliant soul. This is an “it takes one to know one” situation, because I too am unwaveringly law-abiding (other than a serious desire to be recruited into an Oceans 8 sort of heist … something we will never speak of again, unless we’re on a burner phone).

So while it’s generally advisable to follow the rules (law enforcement professionals nod with me in earnest here), it’s not advisable to get sucked into the stuck, sad, and settling vortex of Rules We Think Are Real And Must Abide By.

We all too often succumb to limiting beliefs that prevent us from enjoying the full experience of being alive. Vishen Lakhiani calls them Brules—bullshit rules that have been passed down from generation to generation—bullshit rules that keep us small.

Here’s an example sampler pack of rules we cling to (and then die unhappily, sticking to):

  • “I have to stay in this crappy job because of the security … I might not find a comp plan this good elsewhere.”
  • “I should stay in this relationship because of the kids.”
  • “I’d love to take a pole dancing class, but what would the neighbors think if they knew?”
  • “We should move to the suburbs, because that’s what families do next.”
  • “I need to finish this major in school; I don’t want to disappoint my parents.”
  • “I really want to explore Buddhism but I was raised Catholic, so I shouldn’t.”
  • “It would be cool to dye my hair with a fun color, but my boss might not like it and I don’t want to be held back at work.”
  • “I would love to go on vacation alone but my partner might get offended.”
  • “I don’t really want kids but I feel like I should, so …”
  • “I want to see less of my friend Esmerelda, because she never really asks about what’s going on in my life … but it doesn’t sound like the right thing to do to so I’ll keep listening to her drone on about herself.”
  • Etc. etc. etc.

The number one regret of the dying

Palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware noticed that the most prominent regret of dying hospice patients was … get ready for it: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Did you just swallow hard there too?

What does a life that is true to yourself even look like? Would you know it if you were living it? More importantly, would you know it if you weren’t?

Permission granted

Many of the clients I work with are able to name the thing(s) they long to do, and can even identify the “yeah but” rule they are following out of a lineup.

Arden wanted to move to Seattle so badly she could taste it, but thought “the responsible thing to do” was wait for her kids to finish school. She was disheartened to have to wait EIGHT YEARS to “live the dream.” After clueing into the unwritten rule she was following, she gave herself permission to search for new schools and a new home.

Mel desperately wanted out of the sales manager role she was recently promoted into, so she could go back to selling up a storm on her own (and not herding cats salespeople to use the CRM once and for freaking all). She identified her unwritten rule that “you can’t unpromote yourself,” and gave herself permission to tell her boss how she felt. She got her old territory back and loves the unencumbered feeling of not babysitting adult salespeople all day.

What permission slips do you need to write for yourself?

My own permission slip

I recently stumbled upon an assignment I submitted while in the Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at UPenn in 2019. We had to write journal entries about our musings after each onsite long weekend … and as you will see below, I was experiencing an internal tug of war about what to thesis to write. See if you can spot the “rule” I thought I had to follow …

Observations: is it too weird to say that I have fallen in love with professor Isaac Prilleltensky? In a totally academic/platonic way that I’m not ashamed to tell The Husband about? He has been a total MAPP highlight so far, because of the cocktail that I love to sip on the most: super-smart content shaken with engaging, funny delivery. “Mattering” is such an elegant construct that encompasses so much of what I have the pleasure of doing at work (working with leaders and teams), and I’m grateful to have his theories to draw from. Do you know if he can be coerced to become a capstone advisor? Especially if I promise not to steal him from Ora?

Speaking of Capstones: oh, that tiny thing on the horizon. My list of topics has grown to two pages, and it’s a very inspiring list of Things I’d Love to Delve Into At Some Point in Life, Even If They Don’t Become Capstone-Worthy. Lots of invigorating ideas like creating a well-being program for leaders, developing a culture assessment/checklist to use with clients (at the onset of engagements with them), writing a keynote speech about Culture Killers, developing a creativity program for teams, finding a way to get onto The Great British Baking Show, etc.

Small secret: I am very much in love (even more so than I am with Isaac) with the broader topic of death, and more narrowly the concept of Memento Mori—the Latin saying that “we all must die”. The idea of temporal scarcity fascinates me … how we might be able to motivate ourselves to like our lives just a little bit more (or a lot more—who am I to stop you?) through the heightened awareness that time is limited. Knowing, for example, that I have 1,976 Monday mornings left (give or take… hopefully give) inspires me to live the version of my life that deep down I’m yearning to live but often don’t because I think I have so much time left to “live it up” later. I’d love to learn more/ do more about this idea. It’s morbid on the outside but pulsating with SO MUCH LIFE on the inside. I’m tempted by the Memento Mori idea from that important place in my heart, instead of the place in my head that says, “do a practical capstone that you can apply at work, Ms. ROI.” So, um, I’m open to insight here. (I’m 96% certain I’ll take the leadership capstone path instead of the grin reaper path [get it? Grin, not grim?!], but I felt like I’d be remiss to not let you know what I was thinking.) I’m also aware that I might be campaigning for you to tell me how students who follow their heart achieve extraordinarily higher levels of subjective well-being. I’m also afraid that you might tell me that. Don’t worry, I trust the role you are playing here in deciding the fate of my entire life moving forward.

I wrote this wee little missive to Jan Stanley, who was my journal reader at the time, and then became my capstone advisor after I made the decision to abandon the “Ms. ROI” rule. (You can’t tell above, but in the paper I submitted, I made that last “Small secret” paragraph a tiny itty bitty font size to denote how scared I was to admit my burning desire.) Who said I had to write a thesis with an ROI? No one. I made it up somewhere along the line. Who said I had to write a thesis that was more head than heart? No one. I made that bunch of bullshit up, too. Who said I couldn’t marry professor Isaac Prilleltensky, while also being married to The Husband? EVERYONE. That’s a real rule.

So I gave myself permission to write a billion-and-a-half-word thesis on Memento Mori, and you know what happened? It changed my life. It gave me confidence to write an even bigger permission slip to shift the work I do to revolve around Memento Mori, and that was how Four Thousand Mondays came to be. Had I stuck to the rules (OMG, my maiden name was Ruel—no wonder I was born to follow rules!), I’d still be wondering about this topic that made me feel undeniably alive. (Yes, it’s ironic that death studies make me feel alive, but to each their own.)

I don’t want to live a live wondering how things could be/ could have been, and I don’t want that for you either.

It goes without saying that we’re not talking about throwing caution to the wind, giving the middle finger to speed limits (within reason), and snubbing all the conventions that keep your relationships (and self) alive. Of course you’re going to maintain traffic laws (within reason), social norms, and safe ways of living.

But you ARE going to get out your pen and fill in these blanks on your personalized permission slip:

Your Official Permission SlipSo shoo! Off you go to live confidently in the direction of your dreams (a little Henry David Thoreau for you there), with your permission slip pinned to your shirt. Not a single one of us is going to tell our hospice nurse (waaaaay down the road) that we wished we’d lived a life of our own. (I might have regrets of the Ocean 8 variety, but that’ll be my problem, not yours.)

Jodi Wellman

P.S.: Join me on this new social media platform called Instagram!

P.P.S.: Oh and just in case you missed it… I’d love you forever if you took 16 minutes out of your life to watch my TEDx talk!


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