The Fatal Sin 99% of Us Commit

follow the rules

I had a problem when I was young.  No small one, either.  And it kept me from ever feeling at ease in the world, from living comfortably in my own skin, from ever being my best Self.  It prevented me from being Me, and it meant that my will and desires were always subjugated to those of the people and world around me.

Maybe you have it too…

Cause it was a behavioral problem.

But not quite like you’d imagine it, maybe.  Cause when I say I had a behavioral problem, I don’t mean I was some hell-raising rebel.

Far from it, really.

My criminal record is a boring fucking read, I assure you – like grandma/grandpa boring; like waiting at the doctor’s boring; like church preacher (provided he doesn’t actually assault children) boring.  Cause besides a few attempted one-man invasions of small island nations, I’ve pretty much managed to avoid angering the law.

And so I wasn’t out being a punk kid and causing trouble when I was young and teen depressed.  I wasn’t out all night breaking curfews, or cursing at teachers in school, or picking fights in the halls and playgrounds.  I wasn’t some reckless, no good, rebel of a kid at all.

No.  It was pretty much the opposite, actually.

And that was my problem.

One of my biggest freaking problems.

That as a young, struggling dude, I followed the rules.

All of them.

Not just worthy ones, but every stupid and meaningless one as well we’re told or given in life.

And so that was it, that I did everything as I was supposed to, and never as I wanted to.

I think that’s the average depressed youth, really.

It’s not the kids in gangs or in juvenile hall, in detention or suspension.  Those kids get the attention because their struggle is obvious externally, but they aren’t the majority.  Most of us are just regular do-gooders – struggling quietly, stunted by the influences around us; too weak and too scared to even try something that might get us in least amount of trouble or reproach; too weak and too scared to put our interests above the wants of society, or the threats that we are told will surely come if we become independent and strong.

I remember once…

…as a kid, going shopping with my mother.  I had to have been less than 10 than I really have no idea.  I was looking at the video games I think, behind the glass walls that line inside of the store, as they often do, paying no attention to where I was walking as I looked at all the games.

Eventually, following the wall, I walked behind the cashier’s counter, set just a few feet or so in front of one part of the wall, with no barrier to enclose it.

The teen cashier stopped me, and told me I couldn’t be there and that I had to go.

No big deal right?

Except that – to someone as weak and shy and do-good as I was – there was no other type of attention that was more horrifying to me than being singled out as wrong.  I remember feeling so embarrassed, and going quickly to mother’s side to shelter me, to hide myself from it, and from everyone really.

I wouldn’t go off on my own again that day.

And when I was older, my mother took me to a basketball game – a Knicks/Bullets game in DC (when they were still the Bullets).

Maybe I was 12 or so.

It was probably during the work week and the arena wasn’t all that filled that day.  And I remember at halftime my mother telling me that she wanted to go down to the seats by the player’s entrance, so that I could see them up close.

I remember feeling scared.  I remember protesting.  I remember going down there and wanting – as fast as possible – to go back.

These aren’t our seats.

Someone will see.

They’ll throw us out.

We’ll get in trouble.

I was horrified.

And what should have been something special for me – to see my favorite players and heroes at the time – was something else instead.  Something I regretted.  Something I wanted to be over with.  Something I hated my mother for that day, though she was only trying to do something good for me.

And though it was amazing to see just how massive someone like Patrick Ewing is, do you think I enjoyed the experience?  Do you think I had fun; that I was thankful for the chance I had to have some of my favorite athletes give me a high-five on the way to the locker room?

Or do you think I cowered there in fear, horrified that we’d get caught, convinced that simply standing there at all, in front of someone else’s seat would get us in trouble; that that mattered at all?

It was little things like that

A lifetime of little things like that.

A lifetime of avoiding living, because of the fear of what comes with living – that someone might not approve, that someone might say something, that sometimes what’s best for you isn’t always what’s right by the rules or laws.

Except it doesn’t quite feel like “little” things at the time, right?  In that moment.

It doesn’t quite feel like you’re hurting your Self doing what you’re told.  It just feels like you’re doing what you’re supposed to do; that you’re doing what’s in the interests of everyone.

But in our smallest actions are proof of our deepest held ideals, and those who let even the most inconsequential of things manipulate their behavior and their desires, are surely those who will let life’s more difficult challenges control them.

What did my small actions say of me, then?

That I did everything as I was supposed to do it, and never as I wanted to do it.

It was like a horrible disease – not just a desire, but a need to avoid trouble, to fly-right, to be what others perceived as good, and to be the Me others perceived as Me.  It was a total fear of what may happen if I did something – anything – against the norm or against the “rules”, of getting into any kind of trouble, and any amount of trouble.  It was my tendency to let others control my behavior –  whether a person, a group, or society in general – to impose their view of the world  above my own, and their priorities in the world before my own.

The desire to be what others expected of me.  The fear of being the center of any negative attention or social pressure.

Do you think I’d ever get anything I wanted in life living by such ideals?  Do you think anyone would ever be so generous to me, as I was with the power I so willingly gave to them?

Or would I simply get trampled on?  Would I just be another stepping stone to someone else’s achievements and success?

Realize…

…that it is this weakness we allow that leads to the weakness that will effect us a lifetime – the kind that will result in our lives wasted in the crappy circumstances and monotonous lives we see in the average adult we’d do anything to avoid becoming.

And that’s what this bad behavior does.  That’s what 99% of us allow.

Because every day, we surrender our enjoyment and desires to shit we are told, and little words on signs.   Every day, we avoid experiencing what we want because of what we are taught to fear.  Every day we’re told to ignore our desires and needs through threat of punishment which does not exist or does not matter.

Every day we put the interests of others above ourselves.  In the smallest of ways.  In the subtlest of ways.

But that’s not what strong people do.  That’s not what independent and confident people do.

Those with true self esteem hold their ideals and pleasures above all others’.  They hold what they want as a value more important than what others want of them.

And it shows in little, little ways as well.

They have no problem laughing out loud in a quiet church when someone whispers something funny.  They have no problem shouting some snarky remark at the movie screen of an otherwise quiet theater – being that one that gets an entire room laughing.  They have no problem going to the front of any disorganized and cluttered line.

They have no problem being the center of attention or social pressure, no matter how negative.

Because they don’t care.

They just have fun.  They have fun being themselves.  They do what they want because they want it.  And no person, or rule can prevent it.

And that’s how it is supposed to be.  That’s how it is naturally before the world shapes us in its image.

Do you think lions wait their turn for the returned kill?  Do you think they stand there and let others get the last of the meat because they arrived first, or because some clever member of the pride placed some sign on a nearby tree?

Eff no.

Cause while the world obeys signs and rules, the strong do what they want.  While others put their interests in the hands of others, the strong take their interests in their own hands.  While others submit their ideals to the world, the strong hold their ideals as indivisible.

I’m reminded of this everyday…

…by 8 am, every morning I drive to work.

My office building is on a large private property surrounded by a forest the company owns as well.  The road to the parking garage is probably nearly a mile long through its twists and turns through the forest and the company grounds.

One day, the building people decided to aid the walkers who do not exist (everyone uses the garage to enter the building) by propping up a lighted stop sign along the road where it crosses one of the walking paths.

Every morning I watch people actually stop their car because of a homemade lighted sign nailed to a post of wood.

I don’t.

I don’t because there’s no reason to.  I don’t because I don’t want to.  I don’t because I don’t need to.  Because I know that a stop sign not put up by the government is not a stop sign at all.

At all times I do only that which benefits me, and follow only those rules where it is in my interests to do so.

And so, I’m not saying…

…be a jerk or a dick.  I’m not saying be rude or obnoxious.  I’m not saying abandon all duties towards others, and responsibility towards those who depend upon you.

Nor am I saying break any law on the whims of your secret desires – like robbing someone, or hurting someone.

Because doing only that which is in your best interests doesn’t mean only doing those things where you receive enjoyment, or pleasure, or something tangible even because of it.  But also it means NOT doing those things where the actual consequence is a risk you’d be stupid to take.

Those places and times where the laws and rules are in your best interests.

Where showing up at work naked cause you hate clothes, isn’t worth being fired over.  Or like spending 10 years in prison isn’t in your best interests just cause you like a watch in a store, but would rather not pay for it.  Or like spending a lifetime behind bars because getting rid of the neighbor yourself seemed like something you’d enjoy a lot more than simply moving away.

Many rules are right.  Many laws are just.  Those big things aren’t the point of this article.

Little things.  Little ways you can be more your Self despite the pressure against it.

Do you think I care about a “Quiet Please” sign on a wall, for instance.  Or a “Turn Off Cell Phones” warning in a movie theater, or the little warnings they give on airplanes?

Do you think I care about a fake stop sign erected on company property?

Fuck no.

And so I’m saying simply this:

That so long as you live, never feel guilt for doing as you please and as you want.  Never surrender your desires to the imagined or threatened consequences of another’s “rules”.  Never apologize for being your Self, so long as you do no harm in being it.

For years now, I have realized the following:

A rule not written is a suggestion.   And suggestions don’t mean anything to me when what I want means more. (CLICK TO TWEET THIS)

I refuse, therefore, to follow a rule blindly; to do as I’m supposed to do simply because I’m supposed to do it.  Because I know that the only thing in life I am truly and unquestionably “supposed” to do is be my Self and enjoy my Self.

I refuse, then, to do anything that I do not want, or anything that is not in my best interests to do.

Like a strong person.  Like someone with self-esteem.  Like the lion in the jungle.  Like Adam in the Garden of Eden.

The irony is not lost on me, of course, that this is no different than the first Adam.  Cause following these ideals and my own personal rules, you bet your ass that I’d be enjoying some serious apple had it been me in that Garden ;-)

Luckily for us, though, the many stupid things we’re told to obey every day haven’t been spoken by God, nor likely to doom the human race (which would suck).

If you are weak in mind and heart, then, find where it is in your life that you have suppressed your desires and wants.  Find where you have followed the rules of others over your own ideals.

Be yourself instead.  Do what you want instead.

Cause anything else is truly a sin – a sin against your will and desire to be yourself.

And nothing’s more important.

___

Share and comment below.  If you want to.

About Adam Austyn

Adam is the founder of, and principal contributor to, The Last Broken Home, a site dedicated to the journey from teen depression to self esteem, as well as the effect, nature, and problems of our youth. If you're cool too, follow him on TWITTER and FACEBOOK!

12 Responses to The Fatal Sin 99% of Us Commit

  1. Madison S. says:

    I love the quote, “A rule not written is just a suggestion. And suggestions don’t mean anything to me if what I want means more.”

    This completely sums up one of the main things I try to live by + pass along to others. We all follow this unwritten set of rules about what is socially acceptable and what isn’t. It’s a suffocating way to live.

    There are areas of my life where I STILL try to please others (even if they don’t give a shit about me or don’t even know me) and there are areas of my life where I do my own thing anyway, despite what others think.

    But I would really love to completely drop my people pleasing habits someday because I imagine that it would be very freeing. It’s human nature to want to be accepted, but if you’re so obsessed with being accepted that you hide from life and let others make choices for you, that’s not a liberating way to live at all. I don’t ever want to be at the complete mercy of society’s expectations.

    Thank you for reminding me that I don’t have to be. :-)

    <3 Madison

    • Adam Austyn says:

      Yup Madison. It’s a constant battle. And there are places of our lives where we’re better at not caring and some places not so much. But I think most people would definitely find a correlation between their comfort in the world and their ability to not give a shit what others think about what they do.

      So obviously we’re way better off than most ;-) Thanks for reading!

  2. Meg says:

    I agree with this but at the same time I don’t. Certain signs.. Such as the quiet please ..are put there because people need it to be quiet. You should show respect for them .how would to unlike it if you were taking a test and someone was being obnoxiously loud? Some of the things you mentioned you should follow just for respect of other people… Other than that it was a good article

    • Adam Austyn says:

      Ahh you’re absolutely right, Meg. Thanks for reading. I definitely DON’T suggest being a total jerk, and I certainly don’t intend it to come across that way. What I hope the article does though, is dispel the genuine fear some people have of breaking those taboo rules, and help them realize that nothing bad will come of it; that in fact there is more damage done in the constant censorship of their natural self, than in the breaking of a “don’t talk” rule in class or something. When I took tests I was totally quiet too, because…well, I was busy taking a test, as everyone else should have been too. But the problem was, that over the course of many years in school, and many “don’t talk in class” rules followed, that “good” behavior did nothing but slowly teach me a fear of speaking up in class and everywhere else – one that the class-clown for example did not learn. And so being polite is good, but not at the expense of being your natural self. So yeah, don’t loudly chat the dude 4 rows over in an otherwise utterly silent class (that’s being a jerk), but don’t be afraid either to crack some joke to the person next to you if it happens to come to mind. It doesn’t matter. That’s all I’m saying. Hope that clears it up!

  3. Martin says:

    Hi Adam

    You’ve definitely got a point about the conditioning effect of always doing what you’re supposed to. It’s hard to shake.

    And I know that embarrassed kid feeling so well too.

    Your basketball story reminds me of when I was a kid and I was scared to walk past the ice cream van in case the guy thought I wanted to buy an ice cream when I didn’t have the money to buy one.

    My sister and wife (who I foolishly told the story to) still rib me on it today – and I still get ice cream van moments.

    Meg raises a good point. I do think it’s important to take account of the needs and rights of others when you act – that is pretty much the cornerstone of morality (in a philosophical, rather than religious sense).

    Your examples are worth considering here. Do you only not kill because of the punishment if caught? Or is it because it is wrong, in a moral sense?

    If the latter, why is it morally wrong? Maybe because you don’t have the right to interfere with another person’s right to continue to live.

    What I’m getting at is this. I agree with you 100 per cent that you’ve got to try live authentically and be true to yourself. I also agree that it is detrimental to one’s well-being to slavishly follow petty and pointless rules.

    However, I think that you have to find a way to live authentically without detrimentally affecting the fundamental rights of other people to do what they want to or need to do.

    Sometimes that’s a juggling act, but if we can be true to ourselves and be fair to others, we should be able to keep all the balls in the air.

    Good work and great site.

    Martin

    • Adam Austyn says:

      Thanks for reading Martin. And I dig your site too. Obviously, though, murder is murder, and the law is the law. But morality and codes of respect are entirely our own. Do people have an intrinsic and inalienable right to take a test in complete silence, or get their proper place in a disorganizes line? Do those compare to a right to life AT ALL? I’d say no. They’re just things some people follow and some don’t. What I’m saying is this: that however you act and behave, do so because it follows YOUR OWN ideals, and not those that are given to you or told to you. It’s about becoming the stronger, more confident person. Think about Brad Pitt or somebody. He probably opens doors for girls (a very chivalrous and polite thing which you might think this article argues against). On the other hand, when he goes to a bar, I guarantee you he refuses to wait in a 100 person line. Both behaviors are totally fine I say, because both are a product of HIS OWN ideals (that he’s polite to women, but respectful of his time) and not something he does simply because it’s what he’s “supposed” to do. YOU create your morality, and no one else.

      • Martin says:

        I’m probably going off point with the morality stuff, but there is an interesting philosophical question about whether morality is relative (we create our own) or absolute (and derived from our status as rational agents).

        Anyway, I’m with you on the more relevant point about plowing your own furrow in life. The more we can do at a young age to establish a strong identity of our own, the better off we are in the short term and the long term.

        • Adam Austyn says:

          haha, yeah totally. I could debate that all day, Martin! A post for another day, though. We’ll duke it out then…

  4. wing says:

    “I did everything as I was supposed to, and never as I wanted to.” Could I say your childhood experience do remind myself a lot about my own. I am not only just a do-gooder then, I am a perfect student. Quiet, attentive, top of the class, even top 5% of the cohort.

    In retrospect, this behaviour doesn’t serve me. In fact, I hate the rules and I hate a lot of things that are in the mainstream nowadays. I don’t go to university and I don’t have a “decent” job.

    I do agree with you that we do have to live as who we fundementally are but I think Meg and Martin raise very good points. You do sound like a jerk in some of the points. XP. I don’t think we could create our own morality because as human, we have greed and desire.

    I’m not sure how it goes for you. For me, I think if we were to create our own morality, at least 50% of the time, we would skew it in our own favour for our selfish reason. We are not saints, we are not as righteous as we think we could be. I have to say guideline and punishment still serve their purpose.

    For my culture, the eastern culture, respecting others, especially the elderly, is one of the virtue that we have to upkeep. Sometimes, so much that we appear to be submissive to the elderly. (I don’t really do that though) It could a bit extreme in our case but I believe balancing is the key. We can’t respond to everything we want. Sometimes our wants could be really selfish. By responding to it, it might create a negative impact on ourselves e.g. we might feel guilty after that.

    Other than that, I think this is a good article (: I really dig your photos.

  5. Debbie@happymaker says:

    Hi Adam,

    Great post here with wonderful information.

    “Because I know that the only thing in life I am truly and unquestionably “supposed” to do is be my self and enjoy my self.”
    This is very true.
    We are all born to be who or what we are. Yes, we learn as we go, but what we learn has to work for us. Rules are made to be broken is they way I like to think. However i do have my moral values and know right from wrong.

    Take a look at slavery many years ago. People said this was OK. It took one person to finally stand up and say, I do not believe in this and it needs to be changed.” Would we still have slavery if that one person hadn’t had the courage to change the norm and the rules.

    Many great things have been done by others, because they are not followers, but leaders. They where not scared to break the rules.
    I think it is wonderful Adam that you have come so far and now can be yourself or this post would not have been written.

    We can be good citzens and still be who we are meant to be.
    You Go Adam and keep up the great work.
    Blessings to you,
    Debbie

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