Yesterday, I was scheduled to cover a coworker’s AV on call shift (read as: sitting in an overheated office in an empty campus building and waiting for a professor to get hopelessly confused by their PowerPoint presentation and call for help) from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. This coworker is mentoring a new hire, so the two of us were sharing the office. When the new kid got there, she told me my coworker usually lets them leave around 9 p.m.—because who really is going to have technical difficulties after 9? I completely understood my coworker’s logic, and the new girl started fidgeting to leave as soon as the Chapel bells struck 9, but I still couldn’t bring myself to leave any earlier than 9:50 p.m.
I told myself this was because I do some of my best work in that tiny, quiet office, and as soon as I left for my dorm building I would be condemning myself to procrastinating for the rest of the night. But I knew the real reason for my reluctance to go:
I, Rachel Alatalo, am a rule-follower.
I’ve been this way all my life. My instinctual respect for authority and regulations has made me an excellent employee, beloved student, and unproblematic child. I’ve never actually been grounded, and the only times I’ve seen the inside of a principle’s office has been to pick up some kind of academic award.
While this penchant for obedience has made those in charge of me very happy, it’s definitely held me back (and annoyed the hell out of every other coworker, classmate, or friend who I’ve inadvertently forced to comply with arbitrary rules). My need to wait for permission before going after what I want delays and often prevents me from achieving a gratification whose only real obstacle was me. I’ve let myself suffer through discomfort rather than risk questioning the person who put me in that position, and I’ve let due dates and expectations rule over me for years in a way that has been anything but beneficial to my mental health.
What is perhaps the worst part of my condition is that I’m usually unaware of it. Often, when I’m complaining to a friend for the nth time about a club meeting that makes me want to scream or explaining how the thought of an impending all-nighter physically pains me, they’ll respond with, “Well, why don’t you quit?” or “Just turn it in late,” sounding shocked that I haven’t already come to that conclusion myself. Well, surprisingly, and sadly, I most likely haven’t. It isn’t until someone points out the option to do something other than follow the rules to a T that I realize it’s possible for me to disobey. Luckily, a reminder is usually enough to break me out of my self-imposed spell of obedience.
But I want to move past needing reminders from other people. I want to develop whatever instinct or muscle or habit it is that lets people distinguish when it’s reasonable to put their comfort before their instructions. Obviously, I don’t want to break every rule (There are some benefits to be a good employee, student, or daughter), but I want to stop blindly following them when they end up hurting me and providing no extraordinary good to the rule maker.
So, here I sit, once again in the on call office where I arrived early this morning for a shift, typing out a blog post in time for my self-scheduled Friday due date, following every rule of grammar that I’ve tried so hard to retain, and say: I wish I were more of a rebel.