Whenever I hear Katharine Hepburn’s name, I smile.
When I watched old movies with my mother and sisters after school, Hepburn stood out among the Hollywood actresses. She brought a brazen elegance to “not playing by the rules,” in an era where female film stars were infantilized as often as they were glamorized.
From 1928 to 1994, she delivered a contagious confidence and enthusiasm for life in her on-screen roles. She was feminine and athletic in “Philadelphia Story,” assertive in “Bringing Up Baby,” and held her ground while navigated domestic tensions in a dual lawyer household in “Adam’s Rib.” Watching her as a young girl, I felt infused with a dose of that independent spirit.
Picturing Katharine Hepburn standing tall with her impeccable posture and striking features, it’s easy to see how she remained a leading lady for over sixty years. But her independent, outspoken nature was also the trait that brought some of her greatest challenges throughout her career. She was a rule breaker.
Hepburn did not care to conform to all of society’s expectations of women, nor did she cater to the publicity presumptions for movie stars of the time. She was proud of her athleticism, spoke bluntly, preferred to keep her personal life private, and avoided what she thought of as a “superficial celebrity life.” In other words, she was true to herself.
Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Chic notes that her “unapologetically casual” clothing also went against the grain of the time. While she certainly donned a glamorous look in many of her movies, she was known for wearing comfortable shoes and button down shirts with trousers – before it was fashionable for women to wear pants in public.
Once, on set, RKO Pictures executives tried to force her into skirts by hiding her jeans. She threatened to strip down naked, and proceeded to walk around the studio in her underwear until her jeans were returned.
While there are a great many things to admire about Katharine Hepburn, I think this famous quote captures the unstoppable spirit I have admired my whole life…
“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.”
I would add: “…you also limit your potentiality.”
We make room for unexpected possibilities when we break away from the norm. And while not everyone has the exact same inner rebel looking to buck the system, all of us can use rule breaking as a tool to expand opportunities.
A common “rule” that many of us can benefit from ignoring is “Time off, leisure, and pleasurable hobbies are the rewards we get for hard work.”
Adopting a culture of all work and little play, hampers creativity, opens the door to inefficiency, and compromises our immune systems, opening the door to illness and burnout.
Non-working times are essential parts of the human experience.
The social judgements that shame us away from self care do more harm than good. This is especially true for hard workers and high achievers. Yet investing in our health and wellbeing outside the office is a well-proven investment in our productivity inside it.
In a world where smartphones erase the lines between work time and personal time, adjusting or eliminating rules that discourage us from taking time off is required if we want lasting capability and personal health.
Take a few moments now to keep your inner fire burning brightly: Decide what renews you or brings you joy––what actually feels fun and lights you up inside––then look for a rule that’s in the way of you doing more of it. Whether you’re drawn to quiet walks, playing music, game nights, painting, social dancing, rewatching old movies, or honing your bubble blowing skills, follow through with what you discover!
If your “down time” is framed as reward; if you believe you must to have a mega-productive week to allow yourself leisure, ask yourself this:
Is that nagging ongoing need to feel productive every minute working? Or is it, ironically, the very thing that is prevents being in the moment—the power place of productivity?
How far would your personal energy and productivity expand if you routinely restored yourself, regardless of how much you accomplished each day or week?
When old habits or your “inner rule keeper” tries to push back on this (and she will) take inspiration from another of Katharine Hepburn’s quotes:
”Wouldn’t it be great if people could get to live suddenly as often as they die suddenly?”
In my profession, I’ve seen how people can and do start to live suddenly in new ways. And it’s never too late to start.
Ms. Hepburn continued to break rules by pushing herself late in life choosing literary roles and Shakespearean stage productions in her senior years, and playing tennis into her eighties. I invite you to be inspired, as I have been, and routinely look for rules to break to support yourself in being true to you.