Why It's Sometimes a Good Idea to Break Your Career Rules

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Life lessons seem hard to grasp at first, but so obvious once you get them.

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I recently spoke with a former client who completely transformed his career. He went from working at a university in administration to working in corporate strategy at a Fortune 500 company. I asked him, "Looking back, how have you changed the most in the last few years?"

He said something I wasn't expecting: "I learned not to pay so much attention to the rules."

This philosophy has changed not only the way he looks at work, but also the way he makes choices in his personal life.

In life, and in the job search, we often pay attention to the constraints put on us by others. These rules seem so clear and concrete when we're obeying them. They're there to protect us and to guide us – right?

How many times have you skipped over a job posting because you didn't meet the minimum requirements? You could probably do the job, but applying would be a big waste of time.

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What would you think if you knew that many employers don't really care about minimum job requirements? It's true! Ask a hiring manager what they would prefer: an experienced employee with a bad attitude or an inexperienced employee whom they really like. Most of the time, they'll pick the inexperienced person. After all, most job functions are common sense and can be taught. What can't be taught is work ethic and a positive attitude.

Have you ever thought of applying for graduate school, but you didn't because your test scores are too low or you've already missed the application deadline?

What would you say if you knew that universities don't always hold to their application deadlines and test score recommendations? It depends on the school, of course. But if there's something special about your background and the university has an open spot or two in the incoming class, there's a good bet they will entertain your application – especially if you call or make an in-person visit.

Have you ever stayed at a job you hated because it seemed like the right thing to do?

We're often taught that staying at one company for years is the only way to go. It's the responsible thing to do. But in today's workplace, a diverse work history is actually valued by many employers. Job hopping isn't the deal breaker it once was.

When I reflect on "breaking the rules," I see many examples of how I broke the rules in my own career. I moved across the country (twice) to study. I switched my career path three times. I have quit on more than one occasion with no new job lined up. Every time, I was told that I shouldn't or couldn't do it. But I did, and it worked out.

In life, and in our careers, we're often the biggest barriers to our own success. Once you decide that the rules don't matter so much, you'll find that things become much, much easier.

A version of this article originally appeared on The Memphis Daily News.

Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.