So many of us live as though there's a referee looking over our shoulder, just waiting for us to break the rules so the whistle can blow, the flag can drop, and the punishment can begin. We imagine a thick rule book, perhaps poised on an intricately carved stand somewhere, with a stern judge standing over the top, scowling in our direction. We take this action and avoid that one, make this choice instead of that one, always working to follow the rules, to avoid anyone calling a foul.
I know that I lived this way for more than four decades. It's only been in the last year that I recognized this phenomenon as it played out in my life. In fact, it happened when I made the decision to shift the focus of my business fully to life coaching. I've been coaching women in one way or another for more than 15 years. But up until the summer of 2020, the majority of my work hours were spent as a personal trainer. I worked with clients in a local gym and in their homes, and for all of the years that I've lived in Montana I've also provided exercise services to house-bound senior citizens and people with disabilities, as well as to seniors living in a local senior community.
COVID put an obvious strain on these activities. Gyms were closed, I was constantly juggling my schedules when someone had a cough or sniffle, and the challenge of providing virtual sessions to a face-to-face generation was significant. After six months of feeling thwarted and testy, I made the decision to give up training and focus solely on coaching.
Though I knew I would miss my clients, this decision was exciting. It moved me in the direction I wanted to go professionally--more time and place freedom, a greater opportunity to offer education to a wider audience. It eliminated some of my most prolific hassles--spending hours driving back and forth from the gym to clients' homes, back to the home office, back to the gym. No more schlepping equipment into and out of my car, up and down stairs, from the park to the garage. I was pumped to make this move!
I called my "general population" clients first. Again, I knew I would miss them, but I also knew they'd be just fine on their own. I've never believed in learned helplessness as a business model. Every one of my clients knew how to structure their own workouts, which lifts to perform for which muscle groups, how much rest they needed. With each phone call, I felt closer to my goals, personally and professionally.
Until the time came to call the senior living community and the local Medicaid office that oversees my home-bound clients. Suddenly I felt sad. I found that I didn't want to part ways with my senior and disabled clients. While cutting ties with my gym and home clients felt freeing, the calls before me now felt heavy, like a loss. No one else in my community is a Medicaid provider for these serves. No one else is available to provide science-backed training for great-grandmas and -grandpas.
Too bad, I told myself. You made the decision to switch to coaching full time. That means you have to stop working with ALL of your personal training clients.
I felt so saddened by this prospect that I chose to put the calls off for another day. As I observed my feelings, I felt deeply conflicted. I truly wanted to keep working with this sub-population. But I also felt like that was breaking the rules. A commitment to full-time coaching meant NO personal training.
As I continued to follow my own thoughts back and forth, like a particularly impassioned match at Wimbledon, I suddenly wondered...
WHERE is the rule book??
WHY would I think this??
And then it hit me. I was the (only) one saying this. There is no rule book. This is just a stupid rule that I made up in my head!!
There is no referee. There's no judge. There are no regulations, no fouls. I can't be ejected from the game, put in the penalty boxed, or fined by the league.
This is my life. I make the rules here. No commission is going to come around and strip me of the title of life coach because I spend a few hours each week guiding senior citizens in performing leg lifts.
Once I realized the first stupid rule, I started seeing them everywhere. They were like Waldo, hidden on every page of my life. I have to finish every book I start, even if I hate it. Certain foods aren't for breakfast, ever. Housework gets done on Sundays. I have to have concrete plans to take a day off from work. If I do take a day off, I need to reschedule all of my clients to another day. Who says? Where is the rule book? Why would I think these things?
Turns out we all have them. And figuring this out is tremendously freeing. Remember when you were a child and you imagined being an adult would be so awesome, because you could do whatever you wanted? But here you are, all grown up, and you laugh at that memory. Silly girl, you think. I am an adult now, and I rarely do what I want. Did you ever stop to wonder WHY??
I'll tell you why. Stupid rules.
You CAN do whatever you want. OK, we've got some laws in this country. But so long as your desires don't include embezzlement, assault, or theft, you're probably in the clear. Don't want your corporate job? Quit it. Can't pay for all of your shit without it? Sell the shit. Don't want to spend every 4th of July with your family? Don't. Want to start a side hustle that has absolutely nothing to do with your day job? Launch it! Want to change your name to Princess Consuela Bnana Hammock? Do it. (Saw that one on Facebook!)
Do you want to go back to school, or quit the degree program you're already 80% of the way through? Move to a town where you don't know anybody? Start an entirely new career at the age of 52? Sell 95% of what you own and live in a Sprinter van? Write a travel blog for a living? Make art to sell or stop selling your art? Write a best-selling book, or a book no one will ever read?
Want to focus fully on life coaching, but also work a few hours with some clients that are close to your heart? Do. It!!
Remember, there is no referee here, no league regulations. The only rules here are the ones you make up in your head. And most of those are stupid. Trust me, I've closely studied this phenomenon over the last 18 months.
I've coached moms frustrated by the stupid rule that being a mother means you must be a half-assed business owner. I've coached a teacher who loves to make art, but was stifled by her stupid rule that she has to finish art projects in the order they were started. I've coached coaches holding onto the stupid rule that everyone has to like and agree with them. I've coached a divorcee stung by the stupid rule that you can't be grieving and growing at the same time.
And I've coached myself on ALL the stupid rules. As a recovering Type A gal, no one has more stupid rules than I used to have. But I've become a pro at calling myself out. Any time I'm struggling, feeling conflicted and unable to access my mojo, I start looking for the stupid rule. Once I find it, it's clear from whence the struggle comes; it comes from me, and my stupid rules. Once I let the "rule" go, I always find more peace, more personal power, more fluidity and flow.
I am currently in the third week of a raw food cleanse, which has been the perfect vehicle to examine just how much I've changed since discovering stupid rules and learning to break them with glee. I've cleansed many times before, using many different protocols. In the past, it was usually a miserable experience, since my stupid rule said that every cleanse must be followed precisely, according to the protocol of its creator. I must cleanse the fully prescribed time period, and no flexibility with foods, eating windows, or other parameters shall be permitted.
So this time I did it differently. I felt called to a 28 day raw food cleanse as described in The Medical Medium, by Anthony William. I didn't commit to any particular time period, and I just decided last night that this will be my final week. That means I'm not making 28 days. This would not have been an option for old Deb, tightly governed as she was by stupid rules. She probably would have starved to death by now, poor soul. The diet as prescribed is very low in fat and protein. New Deb figured out early on that her body needs more of these macros, so I've been adding plenty of full-fat coconut milk, some nuts, and lots of avocado to my diet.
Though I've remained (nearly) completely vegetarian, I've enjoyed a few meals featuring cooked veggies (including this scrumptious salad that was last night's dinner, minus the eggs and parmesan). And I can't quite claim 100% vegetarian, due to a truly rare treat for a Montana girl--fresh Hawaiian fish. The first Friday of cleansing, a new food truck came to town, offering fresh seafood flown in from my favorite island paradise. Old Deb would have been bitter that weekend, because fish is not on the menu in William's cleanse. Beyond trout, fresh seafood isn't happening in Montana, and that poor shackled girl would have gone without. New Deb ordered a raw ahi poke bowl minus the rice and grinned ear to ear while she ate it.
Last Saturday night I ate three chocolate chip cookies. Most certainly not on the Medical Medium's approved foods list (or any cleanse food list, for that matter). Oh well! I even had an "accidental" drink on Friday night. My husband and I were going to the movies (where I did choose to pass on popcorn!) and he wanted to stop by our local distillery for a drink. The weather was lovely and we'd planned to walk around uptown while he sipped, so we approached the bar to get one to go.
We were deep in conversation when the bartender asked what we would like. Without thinking, I scoped out the drink of the week, which sounded divine, and said "I'll have that." It was only after she had made two to go that it hit me--I'm not drinking right now! Old Deb would have judged herself for being so stupid, for wasting money. And she would have been bitter (again) that hubby got to drink TWO strawberry habanero whiskey sours while she went without. New Deb had a drink, with extra water that night and extra celery juice the next morning, and a good laugh.
Is this cleanse any less effective than the others in my past because of this flexibility? Not likely. In fact, it's probably more beneficial, since cleansing should be about reducing toxicity on ALL levels, including psychological. If it stresses you out, makes you feel guilty and bitter, and generally puts a strain on your soul, it's really not that good for you, macros and approved food lists aside. William is tuned into this, and his unusually flexible description of the diet is proof.
However, I didn't need his permission. My experience following (and not following) his protocol proved that I don't need anyone else to tell me I can bend the rules, or even break them entirely. Because now I know the truth--there are no rules, except for the ones that I made up in my head. There are no penalties, except for the ones I apply to myself. And there are no reasons to keep living a life dominated by stupid rules.