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Life lessons seem hard to grasp onto at first, yet so obvious once you get them. I recently spoke with a former client who completely transformed his career. He went from working in a university in administration to working in corporate strategy at a Fortune 500 company. I asked, “Looking back, how have you changed the most in the last few years?”

He said something I wasn’t expecting. He said, “I learned not to pay so much attention to the rules.” This philosophy has not only changed the way he looks at work, but also the way he makes choices in his personal life.

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

For example, how many times have you skipped over a job posting you could do because you didn’t meet the minimum requirements? You could easily apply, but you know it would be a big waste of time.

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 who they really like. Most of the time, they’ll pick the inexperienced person. After all, most job functions are fairly 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 their incoming class of students, 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 valued.

Reflecting on “breaking the rules,” I can see examples of how I broke the rules in my own career. I moved cross 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 barrier to our own success. Once you decide that the rules don’t matter so much, you’ll find that things become much, much easier.

Angela Copeland is CEO and founder of Copeland Coaching and can be reached at or on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.

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