Breaking out of the boxes we’ve placed ourselves in
I don’t know if this is the case in all cultures, but looking back I realise that somewhere during our time in high school my friends and I started (with the help of others) to make definitive assumptions about ourselves, and to put ourselves in boxes that have permitted us to pursue (with a degree of confidence in our abilities) certain avenues while essentially putting up roadblocks in front of others.
For instance, the areas of skill I settled on for myself were: academics, languages, performing arts. As I grew older, the extroversion required for performing arts slipped away, and so all I was left with was academics and languages. While I did and do still love those areas, how sadly restrictive to have them be the only avenues open to me!
Ruled out were the following: sports, crafts and design, technology and mechanics, among other things. In my (fear-of-failure) mind, I felt I was ‘allowed’ to put myself out there and expend time, money and effort on my so-called strengths, while my non-strengths were essentially off limits because ‘I’m not sporty’, ‘I’m not good at crafts’ and ‘I don’t have a mind for mechanics’.
It has taken years and years for me to shed this unhelpful mind-set. I am gradually learning now to experiment with and enjoy many of the areas that I’d previously ruled out.
I perceive there to be a widespread notion that when you have particular talent in one area you somehow ‘owe’ it to yourself and the world to devote yourself to it entirely so that you can go as far with it as possible. I see this as often limiting us, as we develop restrictive mind-sets about who we are and what we can (and should) do. To be sure, if that one thing makes you come alive and brings light and freedom into your life and that of others, then yes, just go for broke, but for many of us perhaps more freedom and joy will be found in spending time – lots of time even – doing activities that ‘achieve’ nothing, and which will never be of a level or skill to warrant marketability, applaud or fame. (I won’t go down this road again, as I chatted about this idea in relative depth in Think less, do more).
I find that I no longer wish to box myself in – not in any shape or form – and I hope to be able to encourage my nieces and nephews and others to refuse a narrow defining or delineating of who they are. I just hate it when I hear someone say “I can’t sing” or “Maths is beyond me”. Why the need for such blanket declaratory statements? Perhaps you won’t be a recording artist, but you still can and should sing if you enjoy it. And maybe you fail maths at school, but don’t let that limit the opportunities available to you later in life should you decide that you are going to pick it up again and pursue something that requires skill with numbers.
So in breaking away from my pre/misconceptions about myself, I’ve started, for example, to fiddle around with various crafts and decorating. Inspired by a pin on Pinterest, I made a boardless pin board on my office wall, and I stick things up and beautify it to my little heart’s content. It makes me happy when I look at it. And the other day I wanted to watch my old Star Wars video, so I climbed behind the flat screen and fiddled around with plugs and (much to my surprise and delight) actually managed to hook up the old video machine with the TV, which resulted in a victory dance on top of the coffee table. As you can see, I am truly enjoying the ‘unboxing’ process, giving myself the space and freedom to do and be many things.