Freedom for Rebels

Freedom for Rebels

In last week's post on accountability, I shared how Gretchen Rubin's books Better than Before and The Four Tendencies have helped me think, about how people respond in different ways to the internal and external demands on them.

The Four Tendencies

To recap, Rubin's Four Tendencies framework divides people into four types, based on the way they typically respond to the expectations placed on them by themselves - and by others:

  • Upholders: Meet both outer expectations and inner expectations
  • Questioners: Resist outer expectations and meet inner expectations
  • Obligers: Meet outer expectations and resist inner expectations
  • Rebels: Resist both outer expectations and inner expectations

Rubin suggests that that no one tendency is any 'better' than the others - just different - and that all four 'tendencies' have both strengths and weaknesses.

But here's the thing: It can be particularly hard to be a Rebel.
(Even for those who secretly - or not so secretly - enjoy aspects of their rebel tendency!) 

Whilst I don't primarily identify as a Rebel myself (I'm more of a Questioner) - I definitely find myself tending towards my rebellious side from time to time, particularly under stress and pressure.

Rubin reports that Rebels are the smallest of the four groups, but the truth is, on at least one level:

We're all Rebels.

Wanting to go our own way (and that not working out so well for us) lies at the heart of the human condition.

Rebels have a tendency to resist ALL expectations and demands placed on them - by themselves and other people.

They tend towards breaking rules, violating social norms and defying rules and authority. They also often deliberately resist meeting their own expectations of themselves.

Freedom - and free will (their own, obvs.) matters deeply to Rebels. The irony here, is that many Rebels are far from free, to be the people they want to be.

Any of this sound familiar?

As Paul explains in Romans 7:15-19:

"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing."

It's important to point out that Rubins framework isn't tied to a Christian worldview. 

As a Christian, I believe that weakness, brokenness and sin lie at the heart of the 'shadow side' of all our tendencies - whether we identify in ourselves a tendency to Uphold, Question, Oblige, or Rebel.

Besides, all Rebels are not the same. Some are introverts, others extroverts, some have a huge servant heart - others less so... The only thing Rubin's Four Tendencies describes - is how we differ from one another, in how we typically respond to our own expectations - and the expectations of others.

But here's the thing: 

Although many Rebels are able to appreciate the positives - and can learn to play to their strengths, Rebels often face some particular challenges in their life and work.

Being a rebel can be hard.

Whilst one one level, it might be 'fun' to be a Rebel, rebels often live with a ton of frustration - not just towards those around them - but also with themselves.


The Rebel tendency is insightfully summed up by Rubin herself, in the type's tagline:

"You can't make me - and I can't make me either."

Rebels want to do whatever they want to do, in their own time, in their own way.
(Oh, hello Frank Sinatra...)

They often find it easy to sabotage themselves - and find it hard to stick to habits and routines. More generally, they often find it hard, to consistently do what's good for them.

Amongst other things, this means they may find it hard to be well organised, both personally and professionally - and consistently practise good self-care; eg. around rest, healthy eating and exercise. 

Rebels often find it difficult to develop and maintain habits that might help them; because of their strong opposition to anything that feels like a scheduled commitment.

They tend to struggle with feeling constrained, restricted, trapped - and claustrophobic. They also typically hate being told what to do, or being micro-managed. 


Interestingly, Rubin reports that of all the groups she has spoken to about the Four Tendencies - the group that had the highest percentage of Rebels was a group of Christian leaders.

(I'll just leave that there for a moment...)

This may sound somewhat counter-intuitive - but I don't find it surprising.

Because, here's the thing:

There is something wonderful, about a rebel who has found their cause... 

...Something worth living for - and pouring out their life for.

The parable of the Prodigal Son illustrates so beautifully, that God the Father has a heart for rebels.

Know this:

There is nothing on earth, like a rebel heart that has found a home.

As someone who works with a number of Christians who lead - including some pioneering spirits - I'd agree it's not uncommon to find redeemed rebels leading in mission and ministry - and pursuing pioneering projects.

In a number of ways, I'm deeply grateful for that.

The strengths of rebels are enormously valuable - both to the world and the church.

Rebels who are able to harness and develop their finer qualities can be enormously creative, resilient, passionate and hardworking - especially for a cause they believe in - and one that is central to their identity - to who they are.  

The main challenges for Rebels are finding ways to:

1. Give them every opportunity to harness their strengths.
2. Manage the expectations placed on them by others.
3. Get our of their own way.

Rebels love freedom - to be themselves - and to choose for themselves. 

And make no mistake: Who we are and what we want matters.

It's just nothing, in comparison to who he is - and who we're called to be.

We do not get to be a law unto ourselves (as if any such 'law' would work for for a Rebel, in any case!)

However, the truth is, that when it comes to laying down 'Who we are' in love and service of 'Who he is' - ALL of us are a work in progress. And so it is with Rebels.

The redemption of Rebels is about all of us.

Working with Rebels

Those who lead or manage Rebels in the workplace, in local churches or organisations face some particular challenges, to enable them to bring their (often considerable) gifts to the world, in greater service of God, others - and themselves.

Rebels can be disruptive. They may struggle to work as part of a team.

By inclination, they tend to resist conforming to mundane routine, to rigidly scheduled appointments - and inflexible patterns of work.

If you tell them what to do, you can very easily trigger their 'Rebel Resistance' - and they may push back. Either very obviously, or more subversively(!)

As one Rebel Rubin cites points out: Emails titled PLEASE READ are likely to be deleted, unread.

The challenge here, is how to work with Rebels on the way - to give them some flexibility and freedom, without being held hostage by their rebel tendencies - or indulging unhealthy patterns of behaviour, unhelpfully.

Strategies for Rebels

If you're a Rebel yourself, or have one in your family - or lead, manage, coach or mentor one; it can be useful to have some 'rebel specific' strategies up your sleeve.

Here are some things to try, if you're wanting to free your Rebel; so they can do their work - and get out of their own way.

1. Rather than always directly telling Rebels what to do; where possible, offer them information, explain the likely consequences - and give them a choice. Offer them as much freedom as you can, about how (and when) to do it. Let them decide what to do. And then, take a deep breath - and hold your nerve. Wherever possible, resist the temptation to swoop in and rescue them, fix their mistakes, or remove the consequences of their actions. Allow them to notice what happens - and learn from it.

2. It may not be appropriate for Rebels to expect you to offer them exhaustive reasoning for every request or decision you make. But it can help, if we are willing to get good at communicating 'why' something matters. Whilst Rebels generally resist rules and direction, they are often more willing and able to follow rules, if they can see that they make sense, are necessary - and that the consequences for NOT keeping the rules, are simply not worth it - to anyone.

3. It helps Rebels, to align their goals with their identity. Rebels won't do something because you told them - or because they told themselves. But they will often do something if it feels like a good fit for who they are - and how they see themselves. Whilst they tend to resist expectations, they will meet them, if doing so allows them to express their identity.

eg. "I don't have to exercise, but I am the kind of person who exercises, because I value having the energy and clarity I need, so I can do the things that are important to me."

4. There is something about the attitude of 'Carpe Diem' that seems to work for Rebels. If possible, have things prepared, so you can catch them in the moment - and invite them to seize it. Of course, we can't always do things only when we feel like it (sigh...) - but it's worth spotting and seizing opportunities when Rebels realise they DO feel like it, to tackle tasks and projects that are otherwise all too easy to resist.

6. Automate regular tasks where possible, to remove some of the stress rebels often experience when having to be the person who does the mundane, boring thing repeatedly. It will help these get things done, on time, with less drama and frustration. Yours and theirs.

7. Encourage them to break the rules - in order to keep them at a deeper level. Encouraging Rebels to rebel against their own rebelliousness can sometimes work. They probably won't miss what's happening here(!) - but it may appeal to their sense of inner rebel, to be invited to confound their own expectations - as well as the expectations of others.

All of us face our own challenges, when it comes to doing what we need to do, as well as what we want to do, across the breadth of our life and work.

But knowing how you tend to respond, both to your own expectations and those of others, can give you greater freedom to:

  1. Understand yourself and others better - so you can harness your strengths - and mitigate your weaknesses.
  2. Surrender yourself more fully, to the grace and mercy of God
  3. Work with yourself and others more effectively - to see God's kingdom come.

Here's to the Rebels...

...To grace and redemption - and to enjoying the freedom to do whatever it is they're called to - whoever and wherever they are.



© 2018 Sarah Phillips, Away Coaching
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