Ethical guidelines for escapees

Financial Independence

Escaping from The Prison Camp is not just about money (although money is a big part of it).

It’s also about learning to choose our own Path.

Like all institutions, The Prison Camp has many rules. If you are going to bust out, you will by definition be breaking The Rules… just by no-showing at the 9am roll call.

So The Rules of the Prison Camp are a bit like eggs…. when you make The Omelette of Financial Independence, some of them are gonna get broken.

This does not mean that we will be sacrificing ethics and integrity.  

The Rules are not the same thing as ethics.  If anything, Financial Independence allows us to be more ethical.

1) There are no Rules, only guidelines

The Prison Camp tells you that Rules Are Rules and must always be obeyed.

The Escape Artist says, with only a touch of exaggeration:

There are no Rules, there are only ethical guidelines.

For example, the law says that I should not break into my neighbour’s house.  But what if the house is on fire and there is a child or a kitten trapped in there that need rescuing?

For me, in the event of a conflict, Ethics beat Rules.  The Escape Artist does not let Mr Tickles the kitten burn to death whilst explaining that: sorry, I’d love to help but “Rules are Rules”. Nor does The Escape Artist hide behind health and safety, the European Working Time Directive (sorry, I’ve clocked off) or political correctness.

No, like a superhero with his underpants on the inside of his trousers, The Escape Artist kicks down the door and gets Mr Tickles out safely.

2) The Rules are always changing

If you think about it, we humans have a long history of inventing and enforcing The Rules. Sometimes they are sensible, sometimes they aren’t.

Sometimes the rules say that only male, property owners are allowed to vote. Sometimes the Rules say white people and black people are not allowed to use the same buses and beaches.  Sometimes drinking alcohol is prohibited, sometimes its compulsory (see point 4 below)

All through history, lots of The Rules have been wrong.  After all, The Nazis followed The Rules.  The problem was that they were the Wrong Rules.

3) The Rules are different in different places

Different Rules apply in different countries.  In Germany there is a minimum speed on many of the motorways but no maximum.  In the UK the speed limit is 70mph.

Why should it be that, by amazing co-incidence, all of The Rules currently in force in your country, town or social circle are The Right Rules and The Only Right Rules?

Or to put it another way, if The Rules are always right wherever they may be, how are we to explain Saudi Arabia?

4) The Rules are often arbitrary

Drinking alcohol is not only legal in the UK, its often actively encouraged. If you are Catholic and go to mass, they pour wine down your throat…its The Rules.  If you played Rugby at my University, drinking was not optional…it was compulsory.  They held you down and poured beer down you like a goose being force fed to make foie gras.

In corporate jobs that involve stress, selling and client entertaining, alcohol is actively encouraged for practical reasons: just try putting up with that shit for long without a drink or two inside you.

But, for reasons that are not entirely clear, The Rules forbid the use of drugs that are no more toxic than alcohol but just happened to be discovered more recently.

5) The Rules don’t always apply

No sooner than The Rules have been made up, then situations quickly become apparent when its obvious that The Rules don’t apply.

For example, if you are an employee of a low cost airline or bank, the usual unwritten Rule is to be as bossy as possible to all the customers.  Unless the customer happens to be the CEO of the company.  Or a mystery shopper. Or a celebrity.

In most of the economy, if you pay more, you get more. But in finance, The Normal Rules don’t apply. When you are buying a car the more you pay for it, the more car you get. When you are buying a fund (again all other things being equal) the more you pay, the less you get.

6) You don’t always know what the Rules are

One of the confusing things about being abroad is that The Rules are different.  And you may not always know what they are.

I remember when the young Escape Artist was on a school exchange in Germany and walked across an empty road at a pedestrian crossing. This was the cue for an elderly German lady to start shrieking at me: DER ROTE MANN!, DER ROTE MANN!*  Apparently, I had unwittingly committed the crime of jaywalking.  Fortunately, I was able to make my escape before the Gestapo arrived or the old lady beat me to death with her umbrella.

Even in your own country, its not always clear what The Rules are. There are Written Rules and there are Unwritten Rules.

The problem with The Unwritten Rules is that they are…errr….unwritten. So no one is completely sure what they are.  We just know there are lots of them. But The Unwritten Rules are often enforced with as much vigour as The Written Rules.

7) The Rules don’t apply to everyone equally

We are led to believe that The Rules apply equally to everyone.  Hhhmmm….It may be comforting for us to hear that. 

Yes, in a democracy, everyone’s vote counts the same. And, for the most part, I think we get equal treatment in the legal system.  Unless you are a celebrity on trial in Los Angeles in which case, you don’t need to worry too much…even if you’ve obviously killed someone.

But at work, I saw that The Rules don’t apply to everyone equally.  I don’t claim to have been one of the top rainmakers at my firm…but I noticed those rainmakers could do pretty much whatever they wanted at work.

If you are a top sales performer for your firm, you may find that you don’t need to come into the office until lunchtime, that you don’t need to wear a tie and the rule that “No One Is Getting A Pay Rise This Year” magically doesn’t apply to you.

Please don’t shoot the messenger here.  The Escape Artist did not make The Rules. But if you were under the impression that life is always fair, you may not have been paying attention.

8)  Sometimes The Rules don’t work

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  For this reason, our laws are full of complexity and unintended consequences.

Every time there is an accident or tragedy, the Media sense an opportunity to shift newspapers and clickbait like piranhas sense blood in the water.  The people get worked up, the media pour petrol on the fire and politicians promise that Something Shall Be Done.

So Something Gets Done and laws get passed, sometimes in a hurry. Often these laws work better as soundbites than as statute.

9) Some of The Rules only exist in our minds

Most people have more power than they know.  But first we may have to unlearn what we have learned and get rid of limiting beliefs.

A limiting belief is something that you believe about yourself and the world that is not true. But even though it isn’t actually true, the fact that you think it is holds you back from trying and succeeding.

Most limiting beliefs are inherited from parents, teachers, friends or TV presenters or whoever we looked up to whilst growing up. Often these people never even told us the limiting belief explicitly, we simply assumed the belief based on their example.

This can hold back people who grew up without much money. For example, I had a coaching client (let’s call her Hannah) who felt that an ordinary girl from some small town Down Under (her words, not mine) didn’t deserve to be paid her current (above average) salary in London. This was just a limiting belief.

In my book, having come from that background, Hannah had earned her management position more than someone from a posh school in Surrey or Connecticut with Daddy’s cheque book and an outsized sense of entitlement behind them .

10) Its possible to change The Rules…or make your own

Unlike the 10 Commandments, The Rules were not handed down by God to us mortals on tablets of stone.  No, The Rules were made by other people who were often just as imperfect as the rest of us.

People love to grumble about politicians. When I hear this it reminds me of teenagers grumbling about their parents…right up to the point where they ask for some more pocket money and a lift back from the party at midnight.

So if you are not happy with The Rules you are allowed to run for office yourself, get promoted at your company, go freelance or otherwise get yourself in a position where you can make your own Rules.



  1. aussiebrowny · · Reply

    Don’t want to focus on one small thing here when the rest of the article has much relevance; but I think your last paragraph of #4 demonstrates your point better than any other. I drink alcohol and I indulge in recreational drugs. I am not an addict and live a good life with a “good” job following good education. Strange I can sit at a pub with a (taxed) beer in public and then have to dive underground in shame to enjoy some MDMA that is making me less violent, more compassionate toward my loved ones, and is likely doing a lot less damage to my health. Hmmmm….. Point made

  2. Patty · · Reply

    Dear ‘Captain Underpants’,

    There are a series of banned books by that title by author Dav Pilkey…on a rule break? Read them! :),

    Well said!!!


    1. Yes! I have spent many a productive hour reading Captain Underpants books to my youngest son! The schoolboy humour and gentle subversion appeals to me for some reason!

  3. Patty · · Reply

    Quite Right, a bit of subversion is needed to escape. Questioning ‘the rules’ can be quite exhilarating as the Point Of View from outside of Plato’s Cave can be breathtaking as one wonders why they let the rules captivate him/herself for soooo long! It only takes one person to show others that they can stand up to the authoritarians and bust into FREEDOM! Thanks TEA for being one of those great voices!!

    I say “Give the hustle and bustle the two step shuffle. Snap that waistband elastic at ’em, go commando and walk on!!!”


    P.S. It amazes me that man is the only creature who pays to live upon the earth.

    P.P.S. Your son is one of the lucky ones with a ‘free-thinker’ for a Pappy!

  4. Are rules not meant to be broken? That would be rule#11

    Enjoyable article!

  5. Down with the Rules! As jlcollinsnh would say, that’s why we need ‘F- You Money’. So we can say no to the rules and set some of our own. Makes me sound like an anarchist.

  6. FI Warrior · · Reply

    If a person is capable of independent thought, they can come to realise they have a choice:-

    Follow the herd to get a conventional job to pay for a lot of wants plus mostly overpriced needs through a deal with an employer, backed up and overseen by ‘the system’. You are paid money, in exchange for your best times, creativity, independent opinion, health and possibility of real choice.

    Or risk the almost certain disapproval of the herd by doing things for yourself as far as you are capable, like being self-employed, minimalist, stoic, frugal, living a fully conscious life most of the time. Depending on your skill at disguising your rebellion from the average, in this model you then pay with at least a degree of hounding by the guardians of ‘the system’ and societal ostracism.

    The first option is the norm because it is superficially easier, pay a little upfront, then reap the comforts of fitting in and pay installments forever on things like the mortgage, car payments, insurance etc., etc. (The Hire-purchase or Domesticated model?) At the end many realise the package wasn’t the best deal for them; the total cost was a lot higher than they imagined.

    The second option is unusual because it requires great strength of character, here you pay most upfront to set up; then relatively little after that, just to maintain the lifestyle. A person on this path has to not care what others think of them, or they do but can still go for it because they value freedom and a meaningful life more than avoiding the pain of going against the flow of the herd. (The Maverick or Call of the Wild model?)

    1. The Rhino · · Reply

      @FI Warrior – it may not be as bad as you think – remember the ‘spotlight-bias’. People actually care and think far less about you and what you do than you imagine. But the ‘lone-maverick’ is a nice romantic model so maybe it works for you even if it isn’t realistic?

      1. I often have this discussion with those around me or observe the wants of people around me. Why don’t you buy a car when you can afford it? What do you buy the phone outright rather than on contract? Or friends enjoying holidays in fancy hotels that they are barely paying with their salaries. Even my parents think I am a bit of a maverick.

        Maybe I am just more acutely aware that what I am doing today (salaried Job), I cannot do forever or am not willing to do forever and the only escape is to find a way to pay myself first. I don’t understand how others not see this. Everyone needs an escape plan or they will be stuck in prison possibly till they die!

  7. > The Unwritten Rules state that its bad form to wear a T Shirt with your net worth printed on it.

    How else do we get you to change your T shirt every day?

  8. “Why should it be that, by amazing co-incidence, all of The Rules currently in force in your country, town or social circle are The Right Rules and The Only Right Rules?” This reminded me of Paul Graham’s excellent essay on What You Can’t Say? –

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