Maybe you have too! Here are four steps to escaping.
When did I start living in a box? Who told me to live in one? How come whenever I escaped from one box I jumped straight into another? Can I survive in a world outside of the boxes?
A simple phrase I wrote in one of my articles prompted this enquiry.
I was so busy worrying about what I should be doing that I wasn’t doing anything.
This led to a whole train of thought about purpose, meaning and identity.
Look at your life.
Are you as free as a bird? Do you wake up, sing at the top of your voice, fly wherever the wind takes you?
Or are you living in a box of your own construction? Following restrictions that you have imposed upon yourself? Are you ruled by a dictator that exists only in your mind?
I can almost hear the millions of voices shouting at me! You are insisting that all the restrictions are imposed from outside. That you are boxed in by the society around you and the dictators are very real and alive.
Step#1 Accept that you created the box.
It was around the age of 11 that I see myself building a box to keep myself safe, to survive somehow. Before that, I had managed to drift wherever the wind took me.
Sure, I had to go to school, but my mind could float freely around during the day, and I still came top of the class. I roamed the beautiful seaside town in which I was born. I swam, I surfed, I linked up with friends and created dens in the dunes.
It all fell apart at Grammar school.
From everything that went on around me, I created two boxes for myself labelled like this.
BOX#1 For me
BOX#2 For everyone else
My box was closed and private. This was my creative world. It was chaotic and alive. It was full of fantasy and poetry and music playing on full blast.
For everyone else, I learnt how to function in a way that gained some sort of approval. This box was comparatively empty. It was ordered and functional but barely alive.
Step#2 Acknowledge the effect of your boxiness.
A small group of school peers became lifelong friends. They saw into my box. They accepted parts of me of which adults seemed to disapprove.
Others caused me to keep my box more tightly closed. 😕
Let’s rewrite that: I closed my box more tightly in reaction to others. 😕
It is still not quite right.
The problem is I am so practised at blaming others that I find it impossible to find the words to take responsibility for everything in my life.
I remember a teacher who was also a family friend. He encouraged my advanced reading appetite, lending me books and setting creative writing projects that inspired me. He ran choirs that I adored singing in.
When I remember him, I feel confusion. He was the one that caned me for minor infringements of school rules.
A++ for that beautiful piece of writing. Six of the best for wearing pink socks and trying to argue about it.
I became afraid to let others see into my box.
Slowly over my teenage years, I moved more items from Box#2 into Box#1.
I found more reasons to keep my true self separate from my functional self.
In my twenties, I had a double life — functioning middle manager by day — jazz and rock musician by night and every weekend. There was no overlap between the two. I dressed differently, and I behaved differently.
Because of this split, I was not able to give my all to either. No creative ideas were allowed into my day job, but equally, I excluded all my functioning organisational capabilities from my creative world.
Two boxes that I created to keep myself safe. It was not sustainable. I drank heavily. Relationships crashed around my ears, and something had to change.
Step#3 Bring everything together into one box.
Aware that my split life was not sustainable, I put in place events to bring the two worlds together. I trained to be a teacher. I met a beautiful woman and started a family.
Going into teaching was a clear recognition that I needed to bring the two box worlds together. I could pour my creativity and passion into a career that would pay the bills.
I certainly had a much more stable life from that point on, but I think I was only partially successful in uniting the boxes. Maybe I took the top layer off each and muddled them up a bit to create a third box.
Box#3 For me and everyone else.
I see a gradual process that is still not complete. It’s as if, for 30 years, I have been trying out different identities.
I see so many places where there has been the opportunity to ditch the boxes, but I have held back and banged the lids firmly on.
Step #4 Ditch the boxes
Ditching the boxes is a work in progress. I am not limiting my expression to one art form. I do not have to create a box labelled Musician and another labelled Writer. I can tip everything onto the grass and let it all muddle up.
The creativity I put into my music can be lifted out and used in writing or any other art form. The organisational skills I used to set up a business can be brought into my music and writing without destroying the creative surges.
Everything I share with my family can exist in any part of my life.
I can start to be ME.
Thanks to Viel Adams for these words
I will do it because I love it,
I will do it because failing does not terrify me anymore,
I will do it because that’s how I learn and grow,
I will do it because I’m good for it and the only thing stopping me is me.
This article was inspired by a video and writer bio I created for the Illumination publication. Find all that here:
This is where I lifted the Viel Adams quote