I saw a movie last month at the True/False Film Festival in Columbia, MO. It was by Mads Brügger, a Danish filmmaker, and it was called "The Ambassador." It's a documentary about how he illegally obtained a diplomatic passport, moved to the Central African Republic and tried smuggle out diamonds.

So based on what I just told you — that this is a film about a guy trying to run blood diamonds out of a horrifically poor African country — I'm going to say a weird thing:

So much of Brügger's story resonated with me.

No, not the part where he's doing shady deals, or bribing officials, or hiring pygmies. (The film, for the record, is actually rather playful, and he does it all to prove how corrupt the system is — not how corrupt he can be.)

I'm talking about the other part of the film: The part where Brügger is abroad in this country and realizes how truly extraordinary a situation he's in.

Partway through the film, Brügger notices that he's operating in a world so very much divorced from reality. Nobody's in charge. How the hell do you work in a world where nobody's in charge?

And then he realizes: Nobody's in charge! I can take control of my own path!

This is a pretty extraordinary revelation in the film. But I'd also argue that it's not all that extraordinary.

All of us have opportunities. It's just that so few of us actually take advantage of them.

I'm guessing you had an elementary school teacher who told you that we live in a world where there are no limits, a world where anything is possible. This is true, but what we really mean to say is:

We're living in a world where there is no one who can stop you from doing whatever it is you want to do. There is no one to tell you "no."

In the Central African Republic, that might mean that nobody's there to stop you from smuggling diamonds out of the country. In your life — one, I'm hoping, where you're doing business above the table — it means that the system you've always tried to work within might not be as constraining as you once thought.

This fits in nicely with a Steve Jobs quote that's been going around this year. He said:

"Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is, everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you ... the minute that you understand that you can poke life ... that you can change it, you can mold it ... that's maybe the most important thing."

Go ask the CEOs at each Fortune 500 company what they're doing in this life, and you'll get 500 different answers. The truth is, we're all making this up as we go along. Some of us just tend to write more of the rules, and some of us tend to live by them.

It doesn't mean the rules are right. And it especially doesn't mean the rules are being enforced.

Of course, if you're working at a normal job, you have a boss, and your boss is going to disagree pretty strongly with what I just said. If you value employment, I suggest you take what I've just said and rethink it a little.

Consider this: We are the stewards of an amazing opportunity. We can create tools and technology and ideas that change lives. We can build companies and projects that break new ground. We can do this, or we cannot, but we're going to be the ones who decide.

We are the ones who set the limits — not anyone else. We need to set the bar and re-set the bar. We can always do better.

The rules are there, but they're only there until someone goes and breaks them all. As long as you're paying your taxes and not endangering your fellow man, do whatever it is you love in whatever way makes you happiest.

I know this: Last month, I watched a very strange film. I saw a guy nearly surrender to the fact that he felt he was operating in an African country where there was no control. And then he decided to take control himself.

And to watch him do so was amazing. It was inspiring.

We can all take control. We can all break the rules.

Hell, around here, we write our own rules.


Think about your own life: What are the three big rules in your life? What are the governing, indisputable truths that you live by? Write them down.

Now re-think them: What would you do if you stripped those rules away? What would you do then? What that down, too.

Then take action: If the idea of those new rules scares you, that's a good thing. See if you can incorporate some of your new rules into your life.

Originally published Apr 12, 2012 2:00:48 AM, updated July 28 2017


Career Development