A comfort zone is a beautiful place – but nothing ever grows there. John Assaraf
Unlike this pooch who willingly put himself in a box, we sometimes find ourselves in a box – and not one of our choosing. Don’t put yourself in a box is a phrase we’ve likely heard. Don’t put me in that box is certainly something I’ve thought!
What does it mean to be in a box? It often means limiting ourselves, shrinking back from all we’re capable of, being constrained – regardless of who put us there, ourselves or others. It’s human nature to put each other in boxes. We can even do it unknowingly. Unintentionally. Boxes aren’t always bad – but they’re generally limiting.
Sometimes we aren’t aware we’re in a box. Comments like she’s not interested in research or she’s too focused on analytics to move into sales, offer clues as to what box we’re in – real or perceived. Pay attention to these comments, especially if they’re repeated – in our thoughts or verbalized by others.
Sometimes we put ourselves in these proverbial boxes because we
are perfectionistic, or
feel like an imposter.
We also allow others to put us in boxes. Maybe it’s because…
of their expectations of us,
a rumor they heard, or
the roles they think we should play.
They knew us years ago and gave us a label that no longer fits, or
perhaps we did something well – or not so well – once and we now have that label.
Regardless of what box we’re in or how we got there, if it doesn’t fit, then it’s not comfortable. Or enjoyable.
Missed expectations boxes are never fun. Think about the expectations we put on ourselves and others – we don’t have to accept them. As Neil Strauss said, Unspoken expectations are premeditated resentment. Resentment and bitterness boxes are always bad.
Maybe our box is the only box we’ve ever known, so it’s familiar. Comfy. Predictable. The boundaries feel safe…but the comfort has worn off over time and now we feel trapped. Maybe we realize we’ve stopped growing. The boxes we’ve outgrown soon confine and hold us captive.
Let’s say that I want to be known as a skilled manager, but a colleague saw me painting and labeled me as artsy. Or maybe I’d like to be known for my strong financial acumen, but a colleague remembers a mistake I made years ago in a client proposal. I took an extended leave from the corporate world to stay at home while one of my sons was young and I had to get out of the you’re a stay-at-home-mom box when I was ready to head back into the executive suite.
Too often our boxes are based on labels that others assign to us; however, if we hear something often enough, we start to believe it. Then we perpetuate our confinement. If you want to climb out of your box, you first need to recognize you’re in a box and identify what box it is. Is it the best box for you? If so, own it. If you’re not sure, read on.
Here are a few questions to help determine your box and its fit:
Are you aware of the box you’re in? Do you like it? Identify the details of your box.
What is your box labelled? Leader? Salesperson? Manager? Researcher? Retiree? Athlete? Or is it a description – not enough? Bossy? Too young? Not good with numbers?
Who put you in this box – yourself or others?
Who sees you in this box – yourself, someone else or both?
Are you comfortable in it? Is it too constricting?
Have you outgrown your box? Do you want to expand it?
Is your box helping you live life to the fullest? Or is it restricting you from achieving your best?
What would it take for you to climb out of this box?
If you choose climbing out, it will take time and require effort. The ladder you’ll need might be tall, but you can make it out. One. Step. At. A. Time. If you have the desire to ditch your box, then you need the courage to ruthlessly evaluate why you’re in that box so you can determine the optimal escape.
Next time we’ll look at finding the right box for you.