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Breaking Up with Our Norms

Updated: Apr 3

How often do we do things just because it’s all we know?  “It’s how my parents did it”, or “That’s the way it’s always been”.  Cultural norms are everywhere in our lives: how we go after our career, how we raise our children, run our households, and consider our roles in society.  These norms can give us comfort and familiarity.  They lay out a plan for us. 

But sometimes these unwritten rules of life can hold us back, cause us stress, and even keep us from living our best lives. I know so many women who have strong ideas of who they “should” be based on who their mothers were, what they did and how they operated.

I’d like to suggest that based on today’s world, those “rules” don’t always work. My clients often feel overwhelmed and unable to give their dreams a chance because of these rules.  What if we challenged these norms? Created new rules?  Made space for what’s important while still taking care of all the must-dos?  I have some thoughts on how to do this based on my own journey:

  • Take stock: To understand what norms we live by; we must identify them.  Brainstorming is a good way to start:

  • What small things (what does a meal entail?  What do I need to do before I leave the house? What are weekends for?) 

  • Then move onto bigger rules (what careers are open to me?  What is my role in this family unit?  What is my idea of “me” time?  What is “family time”?)

  • Get creative here and dive into all the corners of your life.

  • Create your ideal state: What do you want your life to look like?  This is the fun stuff- write out all the facets of your life and what you WANT them to look like.  It could be as simple as having family dinners or as complicated as finding a new career.  Whatever they are, write them down so you can work towards them.

  • Break up with the norms: Ask yourself some hard questions.... Does dinner really need to be home-cooked everyday with three parts? (Could it be a sandwich and salad) What if Saturday mornings were for cultivating your dream (writing that book, earning a degree, learning to paint)?  How can others help with the “chore” work? (grocery services, kids learning to do their own laundry, etc.) What if you chose a job that fostered your passions instead of just working to pay the bills? Then do the same thing for your work life (Is there a better way to manage my emails?  Do I need all the steps in a process?  Are there others that can take on tasks? How can I make time for what matters at work?)

  • Start slow: Try one or two things to start with.  Adjust as needed and then add in more until you have reached your ideal state. Along the way make sure to assess your accountability, the dynamics of others in your life, what didn’t work and why, and how you felt.   You are in control- you can make as many or as few changes you like.

This work takes time.  Be patient with yourself.  Our cultural norms are hardwired in us and can be hard to change.  I’ve done this work with many clients, and it is not a straight line:  think of a pile of yarn and all its twists and turns.  But the payoff can be huge in how you live your life, in fostering better relationships, and in moving your dreams closer to reality. 

How will you break up with your norms?  I can’t wait to hear!


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