My husband, son, and I experienced an extreme example of how rules can be less than definitive as we traveled along a stretch of highway through the Yucatan Peninsula over spring break. As drivers in the U.S., we are not only accustomed to, but make every effort to follow, the road signs, right-of-way laws, and traffic signals—after all, they do involve matters of life and death. So silly us, we expected the traffic regulations and rules of the road in the Yucatan to be just as unambiguous and obvious as at home.
But on this stretch of road, traffic signs are more suggestion than regulation, and making your own rules (or ignoring them altogether) is the law of the land. There are official stop signs that don’t always mean stop (and many hand-written ones); there are almost no one-way signs, though virtually every road is one-way in the small towns (You’re made aware of that fact only after you’ve turned the wrong way onto one and angry drivers give you a not-so-friendly [but very unambiguous] hand signal); and my personal favorite, the road signs advising drivers to “Obey the signs,” a directive obviously meant as satire as absolutely no one does.
Given that no one really bothers to read the signs, I was quite surprised to see that the Mexican Department of Transportation felt compelled to put up official road signs that divvied out life lessons in addition to its traffic “suggestions.” There are signs that offer parental reminders, such as “Remember your family, they are waiting on you!” and “After an accident, nothing is the same.” And perhaps most notable, and certainly the most profound, are the road signs that offer sage rules to live by, like: “You can’t take it with you!” and “You are exactly where you are supposed to be.”
I’ve always been something of a rule follower, so the ambiguity of the Yucatan’s traffic regulations made me a bit nervous. For much of the trip, I couldn’t wait to get out of that car. But then the Mexican Department of Transportation was kind enough to remind me that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. When I stopped worrying, wondering, and doubting, I began to have fun. When I began to laugh at the confusion and live in the moment, I was able to enjoy the day as it unfolded, even though we didn’t come to a complete stop at the “Alto” signs and even dared to pass a slow-moving vehicle on the shoulder. (We did, however, adhere to the sign warning against placing rocks on the road because why would you want to place rocks on the road?)
We are bombarded with rules from every direction: some that we absolutely need to follow and others that allow plenty of freedom for fine tuning to fit our own lives. It is impossible to be original or creative if you’re too worried about following the rules—originality and creativity require thinking outside of the box, breaking the rules, and defying the status quo.
If you’re a rule follower like me, perhaps you find it difficult to break tradition and improvise, use your imagination, and be daring instead. But I encourage you to give it a try: you might not end up exactly where you intended to go, but you will eventually arrive precisely where you need to be.…I know that for a fact because I saw it on a traffic sign in Mexico.