Stop putting yourself in a box.
This post is something that came from years of limiting myself, labeling myself, and allowing others to influence who I am.
Recently while at a friends and family social event, a teenager whom I met for the first time, made a funny comment. While talking with me, her mother called for her from across the room. She replied, “Hold on mom, I’m talking to this nice lady…” followed by, “Wait, what is your name?”
The exchange was so funny to me. Laughing, I replied, “Rose… but you can call me this nice lady.” We both giggled and preceded to finish our conversation before she ran off to help her mother.
At this same event, someone was trying their best to get to know me. Asking questions about my hobbies and interests, wanting to know the types of things that occupied my time. If you know me in person, or have read a number of the posts here, you already know that it is near impossible to put me into some simple box.
Personally I do not like to answer rapid fire questions; or even be asked questions at all. This may seem super strange, and I am also very aware that modern advice is to ‘ask questions to show interest’. For me personally, it always seems hollow. Instead, I find it better to get to know another person through an activity or expression of their thoughts. Something that comes with time well spent, intentional creativity and patient observation. Oddly though, I quite enjoy listening to someone else talk about themselves and can do this for hours.
This nice lady
Remember my squirrel post? My ability to focus is learned and must be practiced. And, my attention span can be locked into place if I so choose. However, the true expression of who I am, is not a focused, neat, put together stream of consciousness. Instead, the ‘nice lady’ inside me is a bubbling, eager, intense, extremely curious; while also being delicate and ladylike. A woman who wants to try things, at least once; someone who wants to take calculated risks and can’t stand to be stagnant. While at the same time, appreciating rest, stillness and healing, I like to explore – whether it is through a national park, in a non-fiction book about consciousness or through a beautiful novel.
The box is cozy
All that being said, whether it is ourselves or someone else putting us in the box; we have to realize that the box is cozy. It is much easier for another person to place a broad label on us and put us in a box for their own benefit; as it is for us to accept our labels and limitations and stay inside.
If the girl I met at the friends and family social never met me again, she would simply think of me as, “That nice lady.” Even if she did meet me again, but did not make any further observations about me, she would still simply think of me as, “That nice lady.” This would be easy for her, and easy for me. But it wouldn’t even scratch the surface who one another truly is.
Stopping at a simple label, or even with a few facets of another person or ourselves can be comforting; but it does not allow for growth, appreciation or evolution with oneself or through relationships. Therefore, today’s exercise is to:
- Determine if you have become too cozy in your box
- See the labels and limitations you’ve placed on yourself
- List descriptions from a strangers perspective
- Step out of the box
- Explore new aspects of the world and yourself
- Commit to freeing yourself from the comfort of the box
Step 1: Are you too cozy?
First, determine if you are holding yourself back. In other words, are you too cozy in your own box? This can play out in a number of ways. I’ve seen some people use their horoscope as their box; others their Myers Brigg label. And still, others who have carried a label since childhood. Perhaps a parent told you, you were shy and that soon became your identity.
While these labels can sometimes be helpful to figure out who you are, or more easily describe yourself. They should not be used as a crutch. It can be so easy to simply say, “I only read non-fiction books”; or, “Oh I do that because I’m a Capricorn.” But think of all the vastness of the world and your own personality that aren’t captured by these limitations.
To go further with this concept, think of the last activity you choose not to participate in because of your acceptance of a label or limitation. Maybe it is as small as putting down a novel because you only read informative books. Or, maybe it was a big as not applying for a promotion because you do not see yourself as an executive.
You decide for yourself: are you holding yourself back in your cozy little box?
Step 2: Your perspective
Take a moment and reflect on how you introduce yourself to a stranger. Or the things you wanted to make sure to reveal when you first met your significant other.
Hopefully, you start with your name, or a nickname. Typically, the second thing is whose parent you are, or what you do for a living. Often, to build conversation, a few words on an activity or sports team to build commonality is useful. Through natural conversation and story telling, a variety of insights come about, highlighting your personality.
Take a moment to write down the highlights of who you see yourself as.
Step 3: Outside perspective
From the perspective of a stranger meeting you for the first time, what types of descriptions would they use to describe you? Keeping in mind a stranger is taking in your outfit, your hair style, facial expressions, tone of voice. Not to mention, the overall setting you find yourself in (i.e. church, concert, airplane, etc).
Take a moment to write down how you think a stranger perceives you.
Step 4: Step out of the box
One way of freeing yourself from the box, or limitations you’ve placed on yourself is to try something new. Awhile ago, I posted about the importance of being a newbie again. Another way is to flip the script entirely and try on different aspects of your perceived personality.
This step may feel exhilarating, or intensely scary. Try and let it feel freeing. My recommendation on the first toe outside the box is to take a single adjective you’ve listed so far and try the opposite on for size. For example: if you’ve listed the word ‘quiet’, even for a moment today choose to be loud. That’s right. This might feel like the most awkward thing ever but it CAN be fun.
It may help to do this with a friend so they can be of support. In addition, it is important to note that even a small flip of the script can make others around you extremely uncomfortable. Especially if they have been benefitting from however you have shown up so far in life. An example of this is if you’ve typically been extremely generous in the past and paid for everyone’s meal. If you decide to flip that and let someone else pay for you for once, it may surprise those around you. They may even act disappointed; but stick with it!
Stepping outside your box will not only illuminate your true self, but it reveals a lot about those around you through their reaction toward your newness.
Step 5: Exploring the world and aspects of yourself
Let’s admit that the simple toe outside the box maybe felt intense. The next step is to revisit your limits and labels, also known as, your cozy box; and to consistently explore new descriptions and aspects of life. Through this process, you can hand pick a new you!
This part should truly feel exhilarating. It should feel like a recreation of yourself. Similar to selecting an outfit in the morning, you get to hand select how you show up in the world. Practice being who you want to be. And finally decide on WHO YOU ARE.
This world has so much to offer and experience. Explore it, decide who you are and become it.
Step 6: Commitment & Encouragement
An important aspect to continued freedom from your box is commitment. As you go through the process described above, there will be times when you want to go hide again. Freeing yourself from the limitations you perceive to be true takes awareness, practice and courage.
My encouragement to you is to keep trying, be aware of how you feel as you try on different personality traits. Practice new activities and new ways of being. Give yourself the credit for the courage it takes to do this; and know it will pay off. When you are no longer held back by a limitation or label; you will be free to flourish and inspire others to do the same.
My only other advice is to RUN as fast as you can AWAY from the people who want to keep you labeled or are trying to limit who you are for their own comfort. Through the flag, blow the whistle, get off the field.