Life’s Unwritten Rules

“I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them.”

– Robert A. Heinlein

In August 2020, one of Major League Baseball’s emerging superstars, Fernando Tatis Jr., did something that every young baseball player dreams of: he hit a monster grand slam to help his team win. As you’d expect, there was quite a bit of excitement after the game. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all praise. No, Tatis Jr. broke one of baseball’s unwritten rules and some people weren’t happy about it. 

“I didn’t like it, personally. You’re up by seven in the eighth inning, it’s typically not a good time to swing 3-0. It’s kind of the way we were all raised in the game.”, complained opposing manager Chris Woodward in the post game press conference. 

Baseball is full of unwritten rules meant to uphold order, tradition, and prevent players from straying too far away from the norm.  Break one of them and corrective action is typically swift to follow. I think these rules discourage creativity, slow the evolution of the sport, and just plain make everything less fun. Quite frankly, they’re bullshit. 

Just like many of life’s unwritten rules. 

Like baseball, our lives are guided by countless unwritten rules that exist to uphold order, tradition, and prevent people from straying too far away from the norm. And like baseball, some of them are outdated, stifle creativity, and make everything less fun. 

Here’s my list of life’s unwritten rules that are complete nonsense:

  • You can’t leave the office until your boss does. This breeds a toxic company culture that values activity over productivity. 
  • It’s considered rude if you don’t respond to an email or text message immediately after it’s received. Don’t get sucked into other people’s schedule or demands. If something is truly an emergency, they can pick up the phone and call. 
  • Talking about your salary is faux pas. This can be done in a way that’s not braggadocios or overly prying. Maybe more transparency on this front could help alleviate persistent income disparities
  • You’re more successful if you have more money. I believe this unwritten rule is a key reason why Americans chase endlessly after more money. Instead of defining your own success, the size of a salary or bank account is used as a proxy. 
  • Never leave a good job. I’ve never met anyone who took a risk on a new job, career, or endeavor and regretted the experience. Even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, tremendous personal growth will occur.
  • Don’t start a business without the right experience. This rule is usually promoted by Wantrepreneurs — people that love to talk about starting a business but never actually do anything. 
  • Start a business with no experience. This is the opposing rule to the above that asserts you must start a business with no experience. I think the middle ground is more reasonable. 
  • Never give up. Most of us probably give up on things too early, but the maxim of never giving up takes it too far. I prefer an objective analysis of your situation to guide the decision to press on or not. 
  • No elbows on the table. This feels like an ancient rule from the Elizabethan era to look down upon people who didn’t display certain manners. Who cares.
  • You need to give someone a gift on their birthday. I like the approach my friend Francis takes. When he comes across something that he knows you’ll love, he buys it and gives it to you immediately. It doesn’t matter if it falls on a specific day of the year. 
  • You need to get married before the age of x, or you’ll never find love. So much energy in youth is spent trying to find that “right person” — because if we don’t, there’s no hope. It’s a bogus claim. It doesn’t matter how old you are. 
  • Your family/friends/company always come first. This is a bad decision shortcut, usually encouraged by the group in question. 
  • You need children to have a family. This old-school rule turns a blind eye on the countless other ways someone could build their own family. 
  • If a man can’t deal with something on his own, he’s weak. This macho attitude is slowly fading away but is still pretty prevalent. Imagine what could be accomplished once this rule is broken?
  • Conversational silence is uncomfortable and should be avoided. I’d argue that the best relationships have plenty of silence and neither person feels awkward. Maybe the feeling of comfort in that silence is a sign that the relationship has evolved. 
  • When someone asks “how are you”, the only acceptable answers are some variation of “OK” or “Good”. Everyone is dealing with challenges yet they’re glossed over and pushed down until it’s too late. What if we could actually share how we feel without worrying about breaking an unwritten social norm?

And now, a small challenge. The next time you’re face to face with an unwritten rule you don’t agree with, take a page out of Fernando Tatis Jr.’s book, and break it

What’s one of life’s unwritten rules that you disagree with?

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  1. Good read! Thanks for sharing.

    I like the “Failure is an option” V “Failure is not an option”

  2. One unwritten rule that I like: Show up on time, if invited to someone’s home. And never arrive empty handed. Take the time to make or purchase a gift, no matter how small. It shows respect and gratitude to the host.

  3. Great read, Dan. Love the “Francis” rule – I definitely need to incorporate that more into my own life.

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