If you ask most young people about what they are learning, they will make an unpleasant face. Even those who enjoy learning will often pretend that they don’t. The youthful ideal is to float through life without a care in the world . Under the surface of that real or pretended insouciance, young people are usually learning a lot about how to succeed and to demonstrate mastery of what “adults” do by following the examples and rules around them. As a result, young people can become overly focused on aping what everyone else does who appears to be successful. Whenever I see an example of conforming, I’m reminded of a story that a friend of mine shared with me about a guild of assassins. New assassins were granted insights into a few of the rules that aided success. If they applied those lessons well, the young assassins would be promoted to a higher level where a few more secret rules would be shared.

This process continued for many years. One day, someone made it the highest level of assassins. With mastery of any activity, people can reach the understanding needed to see beyond the limits of arbitrary rules so that more can be accomplished. While some will deny the value of having any rules, we all need some signposts . So it can be valuable to have rules . What are some useful perspectives? 1. Where are rules interfering with you having a more satisfying, successful life? 2. Are you ready to consider that those rules might not be right for you? 3. How can you gain the expertise to make your own rules? Let’s look at the lessons that such insights into rules can bring to a person’s life by considering Dr. Adam D’Amato-Neff’s life. His dad was a captain in the U.S. Air Force and was a strict parent about following rules. Such strictness is not surprising given that following rules is essential to performing well as an air force officer. Although there were lots of moves, each of Dr. D’Amato-Neff’s siblings developed a strong sense that there were definite rules governing life.

However, as a youngster Dr. D’Amato-Neff found himself drawn to less structured activities that often encouraged creativity in applying rules. As a young teen, for instance, he loved to play Dungeons and Dragons and various computer games. Some karate black belts also gave him lessons in martial arts. In high school, he wrote poetry and drafted material that later became part of a novel, Golden Rattle. Because he had no clear plan for a career, college was a time to explore many enjoyable activities including fencing, karate, and archery when not dissecting cadavers as part of his anthropology assignments. Nearing graduation, he joined the U.S. Army in 1991 as an Operating Room Specialist (someone who assists surgeons), a new direction for his anatomical interests. Dr. D’Amato-Neff quickly discovered that army rules could be bizarre. He spent as much time cutting grass and waxing floors as he did working in an operating room.

For fun, he took lots of correspondence courses to build his operating room technical skills. Part-time activities also included playing the harmonica and recording CDs with several bands, writing a karate manual, and publishing several of his novels and a book of poetry. After spending four years in four different locations, he left the army and began taking more college courses. Unexpectedly discovering that he loved psychology, he continued to study in that field, earning a B.S. M.A. in Industrial Organizational psychology. Inspired by his love of martial arts in which he earned several black belts, he founded a karate school that combined several varieties of martial arts into a new discipline. By teaching at a local private school, he avoided overhead costs and earned an hourly rate higher than what most lawyers were charging in those days. As a martial arts expert, he was able to set his own rules and those rules served him and his students quite well. In 2002, Dr. D’Amato-Neff moved to Albany with his wife and growing family but could not find a research job. He quickly added some more education, this time taking a two-year degree in computer networking.

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