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The rules of life can be tricky to learn!

February 10, 2019

My mom, my kiddo and I went to the Cleveland Museum of Art to check out the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit. As we entered the exhibit, I knelt down by my kiddo, looked into his big, beautiful blues eyes and said to him in a calm, no nonsense kinda way – “listen, this is important, do NOT touch anything, got it?”

His response, “yep, got it.”

And then he hopped out of his stroller and directly onto the first display!

Are you freaking kidding me?!

I grabbed him by his arm mid step before he tackled the mannequin that held one of Georgia O’Keefe’s dresses. I was mortified! And basically waiting for one of the security guards to ask us to leave.

I guess when I said “don’t touch anything” I didn’t clarify that to also mean “don’t jump on anything.”

He had jumped up onto this display with so much joy and when I grabbed him down, he was completely deflated. I felt terrible, and in all fairness, it wasn’t his fault. A museum is a tricky place for a toddler who just wants to run and to explore and to play.

Quietly observing is not really his thing. Plus he didn’t really know (or understand) the rules of being in a museum in this way.

I ended up carrying my kiddo through the rest of the exhibit, trying to comfort him and help him understand that it was okay – he didn’t know. And I was sorry that I had scared him – that this was just a place where it’s really important not to touch anything.

The different rules in life can be confusing. What works in one setting, or with one person, might not be at all okay with another. And those kinds of lessons can be really hard to learn, especially when they’re so personally deflating.

Have you ever had an experience like this – when you maybe didn’t yet understand the rules of the environment or the people you were with? Like when you start a new job, or get a new boss. Or maybe you’ve felt like no matter what you did, it wasn’t good enough, or the “right” thing.

Or when you did something that you always do but for whatever reason it wasn’t okay to do this time? Like when you bring up politics at brunch with some new friends because you love discussing what’s going on in the world, only to find out not everyone is on the same page as you, and you get nothing but awkward silence.

So many of us have a long list of experiences from our personal and professional lives – from childhood through adulthood – when we’ve had moments like this. In these moments you may have wished you were invisible or that you could just shrink down and hide out.

It doesn’t feel great to break rules you didn’t even know existed. You feel a little bruised and embarrassed. And you end up feeling like you’re on the outside of something important.

Here’s the thing you need to know – just because different people and places have different rules doesn’t mean you have to change WHO YOU ARE to fit in. Sure, there are some rules you may need to learn and follow (like don’t touch things that aren’t yours), and the trial and error that it takes to learn those rules may feel uncomfortable.

But that doesn’t mean you need to be someone different, it may just mean you need to act a little differently. Doing and being are not the same thing, and it’s important to recognize the difference between the two. You can adjust how you act while also being true to who you are and what you believe in.

The first step is to be clear on who you are and what you believe in. That way, you won’t feel compelled to inadvertently sacrifice a piece of you being you.

The second step is to take ownership of your actions. If you break a rule (aka make a mistake) just apologize and move on. Don’t internalize it to mean that you are bad or wrong – it simply means you didn’t know. And that’s fine.

The third step is to be willing to learn and to make mistakes. You have to be willing to embrace this process – otherwise you’ll never be able to truly experience anything new! If you’re not willing to make mistakes, it’s really tough to get out of your comfort zone!

We’re always learning and growing. The world is changing. And the more you’re in new places or around new people, the more you may have to learn and understand. That’s a good thing though, because it makes your life experience a dynamic one!

When you say – this is all new to me, people tend to be pretty forgiving and understanding… and if they’re not, the bigger question really becomes, are these people you actually want to be around anyway?


P.S. Next week, I’ll share part 2 of this story – about why I owed the security guard an apology!!

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