I am not a rule follower. Then again, I’m not necessarily a rule breaker, either. According to one psych author, I’m what you call a “questioner”. If I don’t feel that a rule applies in my situation, I’ll do what I want and won’t look back.
Okay, I say this with one major caveat:
I must understand WHY a rule has been put in place before I break it so I don’t fall into the trap that the rule was designed to prevent. For instance, I am not going to drive around a sharp corner at 60MPH if the suggested speed is 30. I’m a questioner, not an idiot.
That rule applies to me in that situation, and therefore, I follow it without question. I have no good reason to disobey.
This got me thinking about us. About early retirees, and those who endeavor to become earlier exiters from the corporate grind that we all abhor so much. If you consider “conventional wisdom” to be a rule, are we questioners by retiring early? Or, [queue ominous music overlay] rebels?
The four personality types
According to Gretchen Rubin, there are four different personality types when it comes to rules:
- Upholder – accepts rules, whether from outside or inside. An upholder meets deadlines, follows doctor’s order, keeps a New Year’s resolution.
- Questioner – questions rules and accepts them only if they make sense. They may choose to follow rules, or not, according to their judgment. I am a big time questioner.
- Rebel – flouts rules, from outside or inside. They resist control. Give a rebel a rule, and the rebel will want to do the very opposite thing.
- Obliger – accepts outside rules, but doesn’t like to adopt self-imposed rules.
To help illustrate what all this actually means, in a PsychCentral article, the very same Gretchen Rubin unloads some fascinating psyche stuff on us.
Upholders wake up and think, “What’s on the schedule and the to-do list for today?” They’re very motivated by execution, getting things accomplished. They really don’t like making mistakes, getting blamed, or failing to follow through (including doing so to themselves).
Questioners wake up and think, “What needs to get done today?” They’re very motivated by seeing good reasons for a particular course of action. They really don’t like spending time and effort on activities they don’t agree with.
Rebels wake up and think, “What do I want to do today?” They’re very motivated by a sense of freedom, of self-determination. (I used to think that Rebels were energizing by flouting rules, but I now I suspect that that’s a by-product of their desire to determine their own course of action. Though they do seem to enjoy flouting rules.) They really don’t like being told what to do.
Obligers wake up and think, “What must I do today?” They’re very motivated by accountability. They really don’t like being reprimanded or letting others down.
In general, I follow rules unless I have a reason to disobey them. For example, I WILL stop at a stop sign at 2 am with no one around. Even though it’s perfectly safe to blow right through it, I’ll still stop. I have no reason to disobey the stop sign.
But, I may not come to a full and complete stop at the stop sign, which is the rule. I’ll perform what’s called the “California roll” and slowly proceed through the stop sign when nobody is present. The reason is simple.
I understand the need for the stop sign. I understand that the sign controls traffic and prevents cars from plowing into each other because, naturally, each and every person will believe they have the right-of-way. But, when there’s nobody there, a full and complete stop doesn’t make a difference. It doesn’t improve my safety, nor the safety of any fellow drivers. Thus, I will gliiiiide through the stop ever so gracefully.
Why stop at all, you might ask? Because there might be a drunk driver barrelling down the road at 80 MPH that I don’t see. If I drive through the stop sign without at least slowing down, I risk serious injury or death. A stop allows me to survey my environment even when it seems like it’s safe.
Or, there may be a cop sitting around the corner waiting to pick people off who brazenly drive right through the stop. You never know.
I use my own judgment when it comes to following rules. All else being equal, I will generally follow the rule or at least follow the general idea behind the rule even if I fail to oblige to the T.
Thus, I am a questioner. I follow rules unless I am 100% sure that there’s no danger of harm – AND I feel like I have cause to break them. Using the stop sign example, I have no reason to come to a full and complete stop when no one is around, but I will at least make an effort to come close to a stop. The risk of death or messy dismemberment isn’t worth totally blowing it off.
On the contrary, my wife is a upholder. Like, big time. She follows the rules to a sometimes-annoying fault. With no one around, she’ll say, “You can’t turn here! You need to go up to the next intersection, then turn right”. To which I’ll say, “Bullshit, watch me.”
Are early retirees rule followers?
Conventional wisdom would have each and every one of us go through life adhering to societal standards. That is, go to college, find a job, get married, spend some money and retire when you’re in or around 65.
To which I say: Fuck that.
There is no danger in skirting societal norms and retiring early – even much early, so long as you’re relatively careful. I understand the convention wisdom of retiring at 65. After all, most people spend much more money than we do and, therefore, need those jobs for longer periods of time to maintain their lifestyles. The rule works for most of us.
Our lifestyle is different. Both my wife and I – and probably YOU as well – questioned society’s rule of retiring at 65. Using our judgment, we’re flying in the face of conventional wisdom and doing what’s in the best interest of ourselves and our families. We aren’t following the rules.
But, that doesn’t necessarily make us rebels, either. We aren’t breaking society’s standard conventions simply because “we want to be different”. We’re breaking them because our judgment called B.S. on the whole idea of spending the vast majority of our most productive years sitting in an office.
What personality type are you?
Where do you stand on the “rule” personality type? I’m a questioner. My wife is an upholder. Do you consider yourself a rebel because you’re giving the finger to conventional wisdom?
Here are some hints: If you usually accomplish your New Years resolutions and feel uncomfortable when other people around you break the rules, you might be an upholder.
If you believe that your judgment takes precedence to rules and dislike it when things are done arbitrarily, you might be a questioner.
If you feel a “high” when you disobey rules and believe that the military and other large organizations are havens for control and subservience, you are probably a rebel.
If you like to please other people or find yourself spending more time making other people happy rather than focusing on your own happiness, you could very well be an obliger.
So, give it your best shot: What kind of person are you? And, do you feel that early retirees are typically more rebel-like than an upholder or obliger?
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.