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Imagine life where we can be whatever we want to be and express ourselves fully.
Life, where we can embrace our multifaceted nature without fearing being judged. Life, where we don’t have to hide any parts of ourselves or make ourselves smaller. Life, where we unapologetically embrace all that we are.
That life is just there, in our reach. But while it feels inviting and liberating, it can also feel scary. But for the little I know, I’m pretty sure it’s worth pursuing.
What’s blocking us from being who we are and showing up fully? What stands between our authentic selves and what we might present to the outer world?
I believe there are often different social norms, beliefs, and labels—boxes—that are still alive and well in our society and social circles. And they can end up limiting us if we are not aware of them.
These boxes come in many forms. They might look like titles, gender roles, relationship models, age-related expectations, or any commonly held beliefs in our culture. Many of the boxes walk hand in hand with the existing social norms, and they might have taken over our personal belief system.
Sociologists tell us we need norms, labels, and roles to organize social reality and make sense of the world. Problems arise when these boxes end up running our lives instead of bringing structure and possibilities into our reality.
When we end up repeating certain ways of living and doing, we contribute to co-creating the social reality we all live in. Social norms and beliefs become stronger. As the theory of social constructionism suggests, we create our reality and ourselves in relation to other people.
The challenge with this phenomenon is that we might incorrectly assume that the commonly held beliefs, norms, and boxes are our truths. And consequently, we think we are supposed to run after titles and labels that were defined as desirable at some point in time.
How about mixing, matching, and breaking boxes?
While boxing ourselves can be limiting, there are also these silently held beliefs that certain boxes shouldn’t be mixed. I’ve found that some people break out from the boxed life only to create “better” boxes. I’m not sure if that’s the way to go.
However, boxes can surely be confusing, and I’ve had my fair share of struggles trying to figure out my box puzzle. Let me share some examples.
I used to think art and spirituality didn’t go together with business life. I also felt that anything corporate doesn’t belong to spiritual circles.
An old friend, a published author, told me once that he likes to keep his artist and business lives separate. I get that. It’s like different rules and brainwaves direct these two realities. But does it really have to be like that?
Someone I know (a spiritual person) gets triggered because her colleague brings up her spirituality “too openly” at work. Why are kids’ or pets’ pictures cool at the work desk, but crystals are intimidating or embarrassing? Is it really so that spirituality doesn’t belong to the business world? I think it should. If it did, we’d have a much more compassionate, fair, and planet-friendly business world.
A spiritual artist I met some years ago in a meditation and metaphysics course rolled her eyes when I told her I work as a business consultant. I guess I should have been in a golf course instead.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. By doing things differently and showing up to the world authentically, we can create new examples. Mixing, matching, and breaking boxes.
Life is not an either/or game.
Figuring out my way out of boxed life hasn’t always been easy. It’s taken me years to fully embrace all that I am and be comfortable with my different sides and interests. And I’ve learned that the more I can own who I am without hiding some parts of me, the more content and alive I feel.
That being said, people rolling their eyes or sharing their judgments has been challenging for me. Redefining my relationship with norms and labels started when I decided to listen to my soul’s whispers and find out who I really am.
The path to becoming our authentic selves can be fragile in the beginning. We feel tender, scared, even silly, or ashamed when we start crafting our own path, which might not align with social norms. The last thing we need when we start this journey is people rolling their eyes at us or overlooking our experiences and choices.
But as we move forward in the path, we begin to notice that we don’t have to choose between boxes. Nor do we have to care what other people think. And that’s liberating.
We can be business consultants and spiritual seekers, high achievers and surf bums, artists and corporate coaches—all that and much more in one person. Our lives are not an either/or game defined from the outside. We can be whatever we want to be—if we dare to. And if we know what we want to be.
The key is to know who we are and what we want. When we become true to ourselves, we often have to redefine our relationship with norms, commonly held beliefs, and labels. Maybe find our way between boxes, mix and match them, or completely ignore them.
I’m consciously trying to avoid putting myself into any box. And if I find a box that resonates with me, I try to keep it open and define how it should look like in my life. It might not always be easy, but what’s more important than being true to ourselves?
What helps us with this quest? We need self-awareness to make choices that reflect our truth. We also need people, preferably a community, where we can find support and a sense of belonging. And finally, we need some courage to do what feels right for us.
And why would we want to question boxed life? Very simple answer: to feel alive, free, and content.
It’s hard to thrive if we live someone else’s life.