51 Ways To Get What You Want Without Following “The Rules”

There are plenty of ways to get what you want without following 'the rules' - click through for 51 ideas on how to gain new professional skills, travel cheaply, meet someone, or launch a creative career! #motivation #productivity #selfdevelopment #selfhelp #goalsetting

“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:

If you want to travel, you could save up thousands of dollars for hotels and restaurants.

Or you could:

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:

If you want to expand your professional network, you could go to a million conferences and networking events.

Or you could:

If you want more money in your bank account, you could ask for a raise.*

Or you could:

The way it’s always been done isn’t necessarily the best, smartest, or most affordable way. Thank goodness we don't have to do it the way it's always been done! Click To Tweet

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

Photos by Gabriel Sanchez and Matthew Ronder-Seid on Unsplash

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  1. Lindsey

    I am embarrassed to say that at 42 I’m just now looking at this in my life. I pride myself on being an independent thinker but I have started to realize more and more how much I have based decisions on how things are “supposed” to be. Thanks for a great post.

    • Danielle

      You shouldn’t be embarrassed. Some people go their whole lives never realizing that there is more than one right way to live their lives. Be proud that you’re still learning, changing, and growing!

    • Heather

      I’m 40 and just now taking this to heart! I’ve survived things that have rendered “the rules” null and void. Looking forward to stretching outside the box. 🙂

  2. Heidi

    I learned how to cook, negotiate my bills, and change my oil from watching my roommate. I knew I wanted to learn those skills when I met him, and you could say he has taught me a lot about being independent. This was an alternative to paying for cooking classes or seeking out multple people to teach me each skill separately.

    MY POINT IS… when you know what you want, you can attract friends who can help you get there (just by being themselves).

  3. Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    I love your advice and tips posts! I haven’t tried many less traditional routes except changing my career path after my degree and after working a while in that field. Despite the high pay and the status that comes with it, I was bored out of my mind. Doing something I love this the best “rule” I’ve broken. 😉

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  4. Katie


    • Sarah Von Bargen

      <3 <3 <3

  5. Simone

    If you want to get fit, you could join the gym and pay them a ridiculous share of the raise you just got (and then never go), or:
    walk/jog/bike to work and take a detour through the park on the way home
    walk/jog/bike pretty much everywhere else whenever possible
    get off public transportation one stop early and walk the rest of the way (maybe even saving money because you can use a cheaper ticket?)
    take the stairs (or get off the elevater one floor early)
    make it a thing to only drink water when you are out for lunch, saving money on fizzy, unhealthy drinks

    And my favorite one, if you are a woman: Get your blood levels tested and act on the results. It might be that you aren’t “just not good at sports”, but physically unable to get better at it because your iron levels are lousy.

  6. Mickey

    I feel like my 20s was all about struggling because I was not taking the beaten path. I now realize I was choosing not to, because I somehow felt that wasn’t the path for me. But I was still struggling with not having found that corporate job, those roots, that circle of friends – not that I was pursuing any of those things. I just felt oddly guilty for not wanting them in the first place.

    In my 30s, I’m embracing this whole “living by my own values and goals” type of choices. I’m growing more into myself – an adult, adulting not like an adult is “supposed to” be adulting. 🙂

  7. Traca

    I wanted to learn how to cook, so I became a personal chef. As a single person, I didn’t cook nearly as often as I’d like, and end up eating the same thing for days. It was difficult to get enough practice in. I mentioned it to a friend who hired me to cook for her and her family. My friend is an elite athlete who wanted help preparing for a milestone event. She needed a ton of protein (150 grams/day) and so I planned several meals around that. Then I arrived at her house and realized, I’d never even cooked on a gas stove! It all worked out. For months, every time I’d call, she’d answer, “I love your food!” The diet helped her develop lean muscle and drop body fat, and she ended up being the fastest woman in the world in 4 categories. During that time, I ended up cooking over 200 new recipes, and learned a lot.

    • Lo

      That’s so cool, Traca! It’s awesome to hear that you were able to support your friend’s goals while achieving your own!

  8. anupreetkaur

    Looking forward to stretching outside the box. ?

  9. Julie Friedman

    I scoffed at living by the rules for years and had a marvelous time… but I was broke. Now, I have my own business, a house and kids to raise and it seems like I’ve just fallen right into the trap. These are good suggestions to take to heart… so I’m going to give it a try at going back to my roots.


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