The Universal Unwritten Rule

Mike Weber

This past week I was hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and I finally identified what I think is the universal unwritten rule! The rule we all know about, don’t talk about and yet it governs how we act and what we are willing to try. This Unwritten Rule that can make all the difference in how we live our lives. But, before I get into that, let me fill in the back story.

I love to hike and in the last two years have become an avid winter hiker. I know it’s cold and sometimes a little wet, but if you have the right attitude and the right gear, it is a lot of fun! The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, but with the challenge of weather and the need to stay warm, and dry, it is important to be prepared and informed. The White Mountains of New Hampshire are rugged, beautiful and a little on the dangerous side. People die every year hiking on Mount Washington. What then does this have to do with Unwritten Rules? Here it is…are you ready? The Universal Unwritten Rule is fairly simple and yet profound and with obvious consequences: “It will never happen to me.”

People hike in the mountains totally unprepared because they know that falling or blizzards or whatever will never happen to them. They wear sneakers when the temperature is in the teens and the snow is waist-deep because they know that hypothermia “will never happen to me!” They start a hike at 3 P.M. (even though the sun sets at 4:40 P.M.) because they know that problems hiking in the dark “will never happen to me!”

It happens in hiking, but also in countless other areas of our lives. We know not to drink and drive, but we do it anyway because we know that “It will never happen to me!” We ignore our long-term customers because we know they’ll never leave us. It will never happen to me! We fail to plan or prepare because, as leaders, failure will never happen to me!

So, what might you do instead? Do you see this assumption as something that could hold you back or is it a barrier to accomplishing and enjoying more in life? As with most unwritten rules, step one is to recognize the issue. If you find yourself getting ready to do something risky without carefully considering the situation and in the back of your mind you hear “No problem. Nothing really bad will ever happen to me”, then “get real” and ask yourself, “OK, what if it does? Am I prepared and what would be the consequences if it does happen?”

It’s a different way of looking at life. What if a blizzard blew in? What if I drink, drive and hit someone? What if ……? It is a significant question. The answer can lead you to make the kind of choices that lead to the results that you truly want.

“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Examine your role as a leader and simply ask: Where have I gone without planning and preparation and what have the results been?


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