I’ve been doing a lot of organizing lately. Being home for quarantine has allowed me time to go through my old clothes, childhood stuffed animals, and college paraphernalia. Though I’m no Marie Kondo, it's been nice to do some purging. And like anyone, I pulled out the cardboard boxes and started organizing. I’ve got a box of things coming back to Florida with me, a box of hand-me-downs for my sister, and a box of Goodwill donations. I’m sure we can all relate to a good closet clean out.
I like having these boxes, don’t you? It makes me feel organized, secure, and on top of things. It makes things easy.
Now, I don’t have the research in front of me, but I think it's a well known fact that decluttering your life can make you happier and more productive. And I mean, if all of this is possible in your home, shouldn’t it be possible… in your mind?
Yes! Of course! The magic solution to everything! If I can categorize my thoughts and feelings and also my entire personality into neat little boxes, I will be happy forever! Everything is black and white, right or wrong. I will determine my personality and keep it in one box and then never open it up for debate or discussion again. Hooray! A solution!
Hopefully you understand the intense sarcasm in the above paragraph.
As ludicrous as that all sounds, I think we’d be kidding ourselves if we said we’ve never tried to fit ourselves and the world around us into neat boxes. But if we all agree and understand that putting people into these boxes is impossible… why are we always so eager to do so?
The truth is, labels make us feel safe. It helps me understand how and why I feel certain things. I mean, when I introduce myself to a new room, half the time it sounds like this: “Hi my name is Amanda, I’m 24 years old, I’m an ESFJ, a Cancer, my Hogwarts house is Hufflepuff, and I’m a 3 on the Enneagram.” These boxes or labels give us language to communicate and find like-minded people who we’re compatible with. Think about it, the second you announce you’re a Hufflepuff to a group of Potterheads, the three other people who exclaim “I’m a Hufflepuff too!” instantly become your new friends.
While boxes can be comfortable and give us clarity at times, I worry that we are sometimes too quick to find them and then too resistant to ever leave.
Here’s an example… have you ever labeled yourself as the “mom” of the friend group or maybe you’re the opposite, you’re known as the “troublemaker”? Now, because of these labels, have you ever stopped yourself from doing something you really wanted to do or adjusted your true personality just to fit in? What about the “mom friend” who went out on a Friday night to blow off some steam, but ended up taking care of an upset friend the whole time? Or the “screw up” who finally got an A on a test, but was scared about messing up their image so purposefully failed the next one?
Not to mention the times we put our friends, classmates, or coworkers into a box. “Well Cassie studies all the time, so she probably won’t want to come to the football game with us, let’s just not invite her.” Or “Steve is such a jock, he probably wouldn’t want to come to the art museum, he’s too into sports to appreciate it.”
Yes, these are basic examples almost straight out of The Breakfast Club or High School Musical, but there’s a reason this story has been relevant from the 80s to the early 2000s.
We all do it. We put people into boxes. We put ourselves into boxes. We compartmentalize our lives to make them simpler.
But listen y’all, life is the opposite of simple.
Life is beautifully complex. And every person on this planet is beautifully complex. And to restrict others to one box does a disservice to all the unique aspects of who they are. And to restrict yourself to one box prevents you from finding out who you’re supposed to be in this life.
We never stop growing. We never stop learning about ourselves. Something we loved and identified as in the past may not even matter in our future. When I was a kid, I thought I would always live a suburban life. Be married by 23 with two kids and a house by 25. Well, I’m about a month away from my 25th birthday, and I happily have none of those things. I took a different path, explored new boxes, and I’m so grateful that I did. Can you imagine how I may be judging where I am now if I was forcing my life to fit into the box of what it was supposed to be?
As my sister prepares to start college in the fall, this is a lesson I keep trying to impart on her: You have no idea who you are yet. You’re 18, and while it's the oldest you’ve ever been, it’s still incredibly young. And 25 is the oldest I’ve ever been (almost) and it’s still incredibly young. And at 50 years old, you’re the oldest you’ve ever been and it’s still incredibly young.
Don’t let a box that you put yourself in today determine where you go tomorrow.
My dad was supposed to be a dentist. He went to dental school for a year before a mentor told him that “at best, you’ll be mediocre.” So he found a new box. He went on to grad school and then got a doctorate in anatomy and became a leader in the field of in vitro fertilization. He thought outside the box, and has blessed thousands of families with children because of it. What if he had stayed?
Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, JK Rowling, all these famous celebrities were labeled as failures. But they didn’t listen. They found another way. They refused to resign themselves to the place life told them to be.
We can always grow. We can always go outside the box.
I think it's funny that we use boxes for moving, when from our boxes, we should be moving on. Moving on from the idea that labels are necessary. Moving on from the idea that we have to fit one mold for the entirety of our life.
So I’ll make a promise to you today and try my best to stick to it. I promise to never put you in a box. As long as you make a promise to me as well… that you’ll never put yourself in one either.
The wonder and potential inside you cannot be contained by a few pieces of cardboard. So boxes may be for moving, but I can’t wait to see what happens when you decide to move on.