Follow the Rules in Order to Break Them

So this past weekend Erin and I played house when we took my 6 & 5 year old cousins, Michael and Alex, for a night. These kids are insanely cute, but they're a handful. Erin quickly deciphered Michael's MO: if no one's looking, the rules don't apply. At 6 years old, Michael has recently been diagnosed with ADHD.

He's got many ADHD traits, from hyperactivity to severe boredom after 60 seconds of inactivity. And keeping up with him is a challenge. It also forced me to think about the concept of "the rules" in a new way. In my book, Odd One Out: The Maverick's Guide to Adult ADD, I talk about how to be happy and successful by breaking the rules. And as I observed Michael jumping on the bed the very minute I turned my back, I started to wonder if I was a hypocrite. I encourage being a maverick and breaking the rules, and yet I lectured this kid on "the rules" more times than I care to remember.

After some long, hard thought and meditation, I came to this conclusion: sometimes, you have to follow the rules in order to break them. I coach clients on this all the time, actually. Many situations in our lives are a means to an end. Sometimes we have to play the game in order to get through to the other side and change the game. Take, for example: The client who struggles to follow a specific format for her dissertation.

The dissertation is one of the things she needs to get her Ph.D. And once she has that Ph.D., she can call the shots about what she studies and how she presents it. The client who has to painstakingly document every sketch, conversation, and thought he's ever had about his invention in order to protect it.

He's breaking the rules and creating a number of cool inventions, and yet there are very specific--and unbelievably detailed--legal guidelines he has to follow in order to get there. The client who has been told that she's next in line for her boss's job, yet continually gets disciplined for being late. She single-handedly landed the two biggest clients her company has ever seen, but being 10 minutes late in the morning often gets more attention. She has to stay in her boss's good graces to ensure that she makes it long enough to get that promotion and be the one in charge. And, of course, there's 6 year old Michael, who has to follow the rules until he's old enough to break them. He has to stay safe, go to school, and learn what he's good at.

Then, when he's old enough, he'll be in a better position to embrace that inner maverick. And I know that he'll relish breaking those rules and living out loud. In what ways have you found yourself following the rules in order to break them? Copyright (c) 2008 Jennifer Koretsky.

Jennifer Koretsky is the Founder of the ADD Management Group, Inc. and the author of Odd One Out: The Maverick's Guide to Adult ADD. Jennifer and her team work with ADD adults who are overwhelmed with everyday life in order to help them simplify, focus, and succeed. To learn more and look inside Odd One Out, visit


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