It’s a place each of us knows to one extent or another. Maybe you have been there your whole life, always struggling to peek out and hoping to find a moment to break free. Maybe you have broken free, only to return to its dispiriting, but oddly comforting enclosure. Or maybe you have freed yourself from it and only look back on it as a constant reminder of where you will never stay.
That place? The place I’m thinking of is that box of expectations people try to place you in and keep you in. You know the box I mean. The one where your boss expects you to play the dutiful toadie, when deep-down you know you have ideas that can make a difference. The box that your parents tucked you into when they told you that girls don’t play tough sports or get sweaty. The box that your high school English teacher steered you into (maybe with only the best of intentions) to pursue a career in some safe, generic career that you wake up to each day, staring at the ceiling and thinking, “My God… do I really have to go in there today?”
To one extent or another, most people will spend some amount of time in their lives in that box. It’s pretty hard not to. Very few people are completely comfortable with living 100% outside of the expectations of other people – it’s pretty much human nature. Sure, it may be on small things such as not wearing your Marilyn Manson “Antichrist Superstar” t-shirt to Christmas dinner because, as much as you love the alter-ego of super-nerd Brian Warner, it makes Mom horribly uncomfortable and she just wants to have a nice holiday. But that is a small concession for the greater good of family unity.
What I’m thinking of are the greater concessions… the ones that nag and claw at your conscience… the ones that, when you give into them, you feel beaten, broken, used or just flat-out fake. The concessions to the views of others when, even if those expectations come from a good place, you personally know they are not right for you… and you still go along with them.
I hate that box… and as I sit here typing this post and looking back on all of the “you’s” I just used… that could just as easily be replaced with “I” in many of those spots. I do it – I know I do it… but I don’t like it.
So that’s where my little epiphany came from. It’s not exactly Jonas Salk and the polio vaccine, but this one is mine and I think it might be handy, so take it down a few notches, people.
I am going to find a cardboard box and slap my name on it with a Sharpie and then write all over it. What will I be writing? All of the things that other’s seek to impose upon me as their expectations that, truth be told, I either just don’t believe in or just don’t want. The purpose of this box is twofold: (1) I want to get out in a tangible medium all of those errant expectations and (2) I find I need physical/visual reminders of things I am trying to stay mindful of. I tend to fall a little too easily into the trap of having a good idea and maybe even writing it down, but not having it in a place of seeing it all the time to keep me on track so it becomes habit.
The 2nd step after getting the box all ready is one that can vary by person, but it’s too display the box in the most prominent place you use when you need a moment to break out of expectations. For someone aspiring to be a writer instead of an accountant, maybe the box is at home next to the spot where she writes her short stories. For me, it’s my home gym because I am such a firm believer in transformation of yourself in mind and spirit through pushing your body. I want to see it to remind me all the time of the things I am looking to work past and leave very much in the dust. Hell, I may even give that stupid box a swift kick across the room every time I set a PR.
I am doing all this because with each passing year, I have a restlessness that only increases about tolerating that damn box and I want that box nearby so I never, ever forget. Does this all mean I am somehow getting braver? Hmm. Not too sure… but I am definitely getting more defiant about who I am and what I want to be and the notion of not being authentic to how I truly see myself is just becoming more and more unacceptable. I can’t be fake about who I am and I can’t just let it slide when someone is looking to force me into being something I’m not.
So I will create my box and I will set it where I will always see it. This may work great. This may be hokey as hell… but then again, anyone else finding this hokey is trying to put me back in that damn box… so I just don’t care anyway.