Ideas above your station - image for article by Greg Alder

“She has ideas above her station.”

Have you heard this old English phrase? It was a way to keep people in their social classes, to stop them from daring to entertain thoughts that were seen to be the exclusive right of a higher, nobler class.

Charles, Prince of Wales, famously went on a tirade about people who think they can rise above their station. He blamed a society – and especially the culture in schools – that gave people the belief that they could be “pop stars, High Court judges, TV presenters or heads of state”.

As a child, you have no idea what your station is. Every child you meet is your equal. Every day is an opportunity, full of boundaries to test and experiences to collect.

As fast as you find new things to explore, your parents find ways to hold you back.

From the moment you find your voice, you’re told to keep quiet. You learn how to walk, but you’re told to keep still. Don’t touch that. Don’t say that. Don’t go there. Sit. Eat. Obey.

You are learning the rules of the house. You can’t have ice cream until you eat your vegetables. Toys must go back in the toy box.

Your parents don’t know it, but what they are doing is starting a process to kill your curiosity. The process will continue through childhood and teenage years into adulthood.

At school you’re taught the rules of a language. James Joyce and e.e.cummings broke those rules.

School curricula aren’t designed for people who don’t fit the rules. Schools don’t adequately teach free thought. It’s much easier to rank students on subjects that (mostly) abide by rules (mathematics and science) than those that don’t (music, art, creative writing).

Because schools prioritise rule-dominant subjects, that’s what students focus on. Maths is the most commonly tutored subject worldwide. It’s followed by science.

In third place is English. There’s no prize for guessing that tutors focus on the rules of English. Parents don’t engage tutors to help their kids write a novel or screenplay. English is the language of the globalised business world. Parents want their kids to know the rules of English to help them become CEOs.

At work, you learn company rules. In society, you learn government rules. You are being programmed to accept all rules, to obey authority, to not question your elders.

The goal is to get you accustomed to obeying until it becomes habitual.

It usually succeeds.

With time, we become our own police force. We stop ourselves from entertaining any ideas above our station or attempting anything outside the boundaries of acceptability.

If we don’t stop ourselves, others will step in. “If I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it.” “Stick to your own lane.”

In spite of parents’ and schools’ and governments’ best efforts, people do rise above their station, or succeed against the odds. Kids rise from trailer trash to Hollywood A-listers. Homeless people become celebrated authors. Jobless people start billion-dollar empires. People with speech impediments become inspiring leaders.

Thomas Edison’s teachers said that his brain was ‘addled’. He became the world’s most prolific inventor.

Leonardo da Vinci’s father was a wealthy legal notary. His mother was a peasant. Leonardo was a bastard. You could say he was between stations from birth. He became the most diversely creative person the world has seen.

To rise above your station, you need to break the rules that keep you there.

Only creativity can break those rules. Imagination causes scientists to ask, “What if?”, and then try something outside the accepted rules of chemistry or astrology or electricity.

To rise to the top of your organisation, to move your company or profession forward, try this: Write a list of the rules of your profession or sector. Then challenge each one. An example? To operate an accommodation business, you need to own accommodation. Airbnb proved otherwise.

Your station in life is what you accept. Don’t settle for what you’re programmed to accept. Imagine more, expect more, believe you’re capable of more.

Photo by Dayne Topkin via Unsplash