My short-lived life of crime began when I was around seven years old. I was one of those strange (or brilliant?) children that really, really wanted a few ridiculous things: glasses (and not sunglasses, like actual spectacles) and a cast (you know, something that would require me actually BREAKING A BONE). I was an odd one.
Unfortunately (except actually, the MOST FORTUNATELY), I never broke a bone, but the opportunity to get my first pair of eyeglasses presented itself fairly early in my life. On a Costco trip with my mom, I sidled up to one of the circular displays showcasing different frames – bifocals, trifocals, spectacles, and even those cool (not even a little bit cool) glasses that go from light to dark in the sun. I grabbed a pair and stuck them in my pocket; it was a lifelong dream realized in a second.
At home, I put the glasses in my desk until I could figure out what to tell my mom. But the urge to wear them was just too strong – so I did – and my story of “Look mom! Jesus left me glasses!” didn’t go over so well. (Yes, I am serious, that was my story. Also, clearly I didn’t understand how Jesus worked.) Mom eventually marched me back to Costco, made me return my Jesus glasses, and apologize. Mortifying.
Other than that lone instance of thievery, I never really got into trouble as a kid. And if, on some rare instance, I did something that provoked my mom’s ire, she’d yell at me: “BRETT! I mean, JENNA! DAMNIT.” I got in trouble so little (and my younger brother, so often) that she couldn’t even yell my name when it occurred. Then and now, I’ve always been a “good kid”.
It helps that I’m an obsessive rule follower. It’s actually been diagnosed (by me) as an innate part of my personality; as something that I seemingly cannot change because it is inherently part of me. I only cross the street when the light allows, I turn my phone off as soon as an airplane attendant asks me to and, once we land, I keep my seatbelt on until the corresponding light turns off. I don’t steal eyeglass wear from large wholesale membership warehouses (anymore). It makes me physically uncomfortable to break the rules and irritates me to no end to watch other people do it.
But I’m thinking I need to get over some of that. Can I change something that feels so deeply part of me? I hope so. Because I’m becoming incredibly wary of a lot of the rules in my life.
Is it good to follow the rules sometimes? Absolutely. As the daughter of a police detective and a police officer, I am a law-abiding citizen fiercely afraid of the consequences of most wrongdoing. But not all rules are the right rules.
What about the rules that say I have to climb this ladder and follow that path to get to someone else’s definition of success (one that, according to the rules, I should readily accept as my own)?
What about the rules that say I shouldn’t try something new for fear I might fail? What about the rules that say failure is a bad thing, instead of an enormous opportunity for learning and growth?
What about the rules that say gay people shouldn’t be afforded the same civil liberties as the rest of humankind; those rules scarily reminiscent of a time not so long ago when people like my own (white) mother and (black) father couldn’t fall in love, marry, and have a child (the eyewear-swiping ME) because someone else told them it was “against the rules”?
What about the rule that says I can’t park on the same side of the street as my house on Thursdays from 10am to 12pm or I’ll get a ridiculously outrageous fine? The rule I always forget when I work from home. Yeah, fuck that rule.
The rules aren’t always right. And that’s mostly okay. As a human race, we’re pretty fallible – I know this from personal experience. The problem is when we keep following them anyway. That is my problem. And sometimes that’s fine – I still feel pretty cool about not crossing the street when the little red hand tells me not to or keeping my seatbelt fastened on airplanes (or any other large moving pieces of steel that inhabit me). It’s the bullshit rules I want to stop following – the rules that are boring me, that are keeping me from trying new things or preventing me from having boatloads of faith in my own ability. The rules that encourage me to keep my mouth shut or define tried-and-true security (and often, subsequent boredom) as the keys to a happy life.
Fuck those rules.
This is my bullshit: I still prioritize my day job over my dreams. I still let fear of failure keep me from trying something new. I still eat unhealthy, processed food and put off exercise until “I’m not busy” as if my precious time on this earth is unlimited. I still value the opinion of others over my own. I still keep my mouth shut when I should really stand up. I still hesitate because I’m not sure what to do next.
If I once had the courage to commit thievery (and then blame it on Jesus, no less!), I can muster up some courage now.
Fuck those rules. I’m going to start breaking them.