“I just thought if I followed through rules, things would work out, ya know?”
It’s 2005 and I’m walking down an alley in Nei Li, Taiwan, drinking coffee out of a plastic bag and commiserating with my co-worker. I’ve been working as an ESL teacher for a year and, while I love it, it’s not exactly the future I pictured for myself.
“I thought if I got good grades, got into the right school, paid all that tuition, and did all those internships … well, I didn’t think I’d be living with two roommates and working two jobs.”
This is the bill of goods we’ve been sold by modern life, isn’t it?
Incur $XX,XXX of school debt acquiring a professional skill set.
Spend $X,XXX on a vacation somewhere warm.
Join Tinder to meet your honey.
Move to Hollywood to become a performer.
Get a literary agent to publish your writing.
This is how we’re supposed to do it, right? These are the rules we follow to get what we want, correct? These are the foregone conclusion, one-straight-line solutions to The Good Stuff.
But as most of us have discovered, that’s not quite how it works. Following ‘the rules’ doesn’t necessarily get us where we want to go.
The years of education and school debt don’t always lead to the dream job. The $4,000 vacation isn’t necessarily stress-free and magical. The book deal isn’t a proven route to fame, fortune, and critical acclaim.
But what are the other options? When everyone around us is going about life and dreams and goals the same way, it’s hard to imagine a different approach.
If everyone I know is getting an MFA in Creative Writing, it probably wouldn’t occur to me that I could join a writing group, take classes at The Loft, start a blog, and get serious about my morning pages.
Where would I even get that idea? We can’t be what we can’t see.
After years of following The Rules (unnecessary Master’s degree, logical career path, nice boyfriend who wanted kids when I didn’t), I threw in the towel. I built a life that worked for me, making up my own rules as I went along. I got creative and strategic and I got what I wanted on my own terms.
And you can, too.Just because everyone’s doing something a certain way, doesn’t mean you have to! There are tons of ways to get from Point A to Point B. You can choose your own adventure. Click To Tweet
51 Ways To Get What You Want Without Following “The Rules”
If you want to acquire new professional skills, you could go back to school.
Or your could:
- Access Lynda through your public library – for free
- Use Khan Academy – again, for free
- Try Skillshare, Udemy, or even Youtube videos
- Take a Community Ed Class
- Do informational interviews to get better insight into what skills you need and how to get them
- Do an internship or apprenticeship (yup, even if you’re out of your 20s)
If you want to travel, you could save up thousands of dollars for hotels and restaurants.
Or you could:
- Partner with a company for a sponsored trip (like I’m doing with Livability!)
- Exchange your skillset or labor for room and board with WWOOF or HelpX
- Stay in Airbnbs or rental homes
- House-swap with a friend
- Be a housesitter
- Join your friend or partner on a business trip – free lodging!
- Tack a few extra days onto a business trip
- Find a way to make a trip (legally! ethically!) tax deductible
- Do RV rental relocations
If you want to meet someone, you could join an online dating service.
Or you could:
- Email friends (individually!) and ask them if they know anyone they could set you up with
- Go places where people who share your interests hang out – rock climbing gym? Improv class?
- Volunteer for causes that are important to you – you’ll be around tons of awesome, like-minded humans
- Join a MeetUp group
- Change your height or age limitations on your search settings
- Say yes when your coworker wants to set you up with her neighbor
If you want to be a writer/artist/creative, you could get an MFA.
Or you could:
- Start a Youtube channel or a blog
- Join a writing group
- Get serious about your morning pages (or morning sketches)
- Set some creative parameters and start a themed Instagram account
- Create Instagram and Pinterest-friendly images with your words on them. Share them.
- See if your favorite coffee shop will let you display your photos
- Open an Etsy shop
- Self-publish a book
- Interview a grandparent and create work inspired by their stories
- Learn how to pitch your writing
If you want to expand your professional network, you could go to a million conferences and networking events.
Or you could:
- Do a DIY mastermind retreat
- Schedule monthly, mutually-beneficial brain-picking Skype calls
- Write a guest post for someone’s blog
- Interact with your professional peers on social media
- Connect and introduce people who should know each other
- Send one email every day to someone who inspires you
- When someone in your industry does something awesome, tell them so and share it on social media
If you want more money in your bank account, you could ask for a raise.*
Or you could:
- Put yourself on a Spending Diet
- Go through your closets and cupboards and sell everything you’re not using
- Cook based on what’s in your cupboards and freezer before you go grocery shopping
- Use up the beauty and body products you have before you buy anything new
- Try to find it secondhand before you buy it new
- Pitch a freelance project
- Renegotiate all your monthly bills
- Drive Lyft
- Airbnb your spare room **
- Work overtime
- Email three previous clients and see if they need help with anything
- Email three friends and tell them you’re looking for side-hustle projects
But I want to hear from you! Have you ever gotten something you wanted by taking a “less-traditional” route? Tell us about it in the comments so we can try your route!
* I would never dissuade anyone from asking for a raise. If you’re a woman, you’re probably underpaid anyway! I’m just trying to illustrate the point that there are lots of ways to have more money than waiting for your boss to give it to you.
** Obviously, check on the legality of this if you’re renting