How To Break The Rules And Get Away With It


Food for thought: To do extraordinary things, you cannot simply follow the ordinary paths of other people.

This semester, I’ve been experiencing an identity crisis between being a rule follower or a rule breaker. I’ve found myself repeating the phrase, “I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing”, too much. And for me, that’s problematic. Let me explain:

When I was a kid, I was always the rule breaker. Back then, it was an issue: I would talk too much in class, draw on tables with pen, shove marbles up my nose – the whole deal. The few blurry memories I have of grade school all consist of detention or getting sent to the principal’s office.

Yet somewhere down the line, I became a rule follower. I became averse to the punishment of my teachers and my parents, and I decided to do well in school, pay attention in class, and walk the righteous path of a “good kid”. With a stroke of good luck, I ended up at UC Berkeley.

But when I came to college my mentality shifted again. After all, I was at Berzerkeley, the school where Mario Savio stood on Sproul and told the school administration to go love itself for stifling free speech (paraphrasing). I was gleeful that finally, I had an excuse to break the rules again.

So when I arrived, although I was pressured by my parents (much like 65% of the student body) to pursue medicine, I dropped all of my science classes and instead, surreptitiously became an intended Business major – much to my parent’s dismay when they eventually found out. Three cheers for independence.

Before applying to Haas, despite learning that important clubs and business fraternities significantly increased my chances of finding an “prestigious” career, I decided (perhaps foolishly) not to join one. Instead I became a founding member of a consulting club, which has since faded, and a mentorship organization, which withered away after a year.

Because I had failed to define a network for myself with a fraternity or club, I began networking by literally emailing hundreds of random people I found on LinkedIn and asking if I could chat with them about their experiences. I had no idea what I was doing, but it became empowering for me. If I hadn’t done this, I wouldn’t have had conversations with so many immensely talented and impressive people, including CEO Tom Reilly of Cloudera, who stopped replying because he was either too busy or because emailing an undeserving college kid was very strange.

I also wouldn’t have met two Harvard Business School graduates who turned down cushy job offers to become tech entrepreneurs, even though they had no idea how to program. And if I hadn’t become friends with them, then I wouldn’t have been inspired to become an entrepreneur myself someday.

So if I hadn’t dishonored my family by quitting medicine for Haas; and help start two failed organizations; and had no network; and therefore randomly emailed hundreds of people to build up my network; and met two Harvard grads; and become inspired to someday become an entrepreneur, then I wouldn’t have the opportunity to tell you that someday, albeit far into the future, my dream is to own a bar/restaurant, even though I don’t know anything about the restaurant business.

So how do you break the rules and get away with it? You just do. As one of my professors, Rob Chandra, told me this semester, “When I take risks, I always go big. Because when I am convinced that something is good, I just can’t get enough of it.”

I am not a model of successful risk-taking or rule-breaking. But my point is that as I reflect on all the things I did over these four years that were incongruous with the “right way”, I realize that I still turned out okay. And every time I deviated from the plan – even when things didn’t go to plan – I always gained something valuable from the experience.

So the next time you start saying “I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing”, if you’re about to break the law, stop.

But if not, and you are convinced that what you are about to pursue is good, then just go for it. If you want to do something non-ABC, please, do it – there are way too many of us. If you want to start a bar/restaurant in 20 years, hit me up. And if you want to go climb Mount Kilimanjaro after graduation, pull trig on some flight tickets. After all, in the hallways of Cheit Hall, there is a poster of two Haas rule breakers who made millions by selling mushroom farms. I don’t see any posters of rule followers up there. Don’t be afraid to break the rules. I promise you, you’ll get away with it.

Josh Wang

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