“Learn how to think outside the box.”
“This job requires someone who can think outside the box.”
“Take this course on how to think outside the box.”
Everywhere, “thinking outside the box” is seen as a valuable skill. As a student, as an employee, and even just as a human, outside-the-box thinking is lauded.
But here’s the thing: we’re surrounded by boxes. Friends, family members, society, everyone in and outside of our lives create them. We all have boxes that we live and work within. Stretching yourself to the point where you can see past it and start “breaking the rules” of the box makes you not only self-aware, but it also gives you an edge. You’re ahead of all of those other people inside.
Psssht. Box dwellers.
But I have a secret for you…there is no box.
WHAAAAA—? No box? But how can I think outside the box if there is no box?
If you’ve been around for the past few months, you know that I’ve been desperately hurting for some human interaction. I even joined an axe throwing league so that I could get out of the house and see people. It does feel really good to do something that I know is helping me. And while I absolutely loved it, it’s now over leaving my nighttime schedule wide open to fall into the trap of just staying on my couch and not interacting with anyone. And if you suffer from depression like I do, you know that staying on the couch is a very comfortable choice, even if it’s not great for mental health.
As much as I want to believe that I will always have the energy and discipline to go do yoga or something a few times a week, I know that this isn’t realistic. I need some accountability. But, you know, gentle accountability…let’s not push it, okay?
As per usual, when I’m looking for an answer, the universe provides it. After yoga one Saturday morning, I got coffee with the instructor and we talked about our lives from every angle. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, so we caught up about careers, relationships, living situations, etc. So I told her about my new job and about how it was a huge step in branching out for me.
I went from a corporate in-office job (that was remote during COVID, of course) to a remote job with a startup, so it was a big transition. I told her all about how nervous I was for the change and how much the uncharted territory had thrown me. Before working in my new position, I always had healthcare through my parents or work. Switching to state health insurance scared the crap out of me when I switched. Now, I’m thrilled with the freedom I have.
She remarked on how different things are now than when our parents were just starting out their careers, how people used to choose one path and stick to it. The career world used to be far more cut-and-dry, but that’s all blown out of the water now.
And she’s not wrong. With the internet and social media, many jobs can be done remotely, and even many more jobs were created. Blogging, social media management, online store management…all jobs that didn’t even exist previously. Because of recent technological advances, we have more opportunities than ever before to create new companies. “Entrepreneurial spirit” isn’t just a buzzword primarily used on job listings anymore. More and more entrepreneurs pop up every day. Budding startups, online boutiques, coaching businesses. You can be an entrepreneur and never even put on pants! I just think that’s so beautiful…
I already knew that my career trajectory wasn’t going to be one solo track. Honestly, I get too antsy to do the same thing for too long (one reason why startups suit me well — there’s always 300 very different things to do and each stage has new challenges and new tasks). But I also struggle to work for 8 hours a day, especially with the depression and lack of human interaction.
I interviewed Katie Allen for my job a bit ago (she’s an awesome coach who invited me to be on her podcast and be in her Body Peace Summit a while back), and after the interview was over, we got to talking about life. I told her about my predicament, and she said something that completely blew my mind.
“I’m probably more introverted than you are, but I hear you when it comes to human interaction. I started working at the marina down the street for one hour every morning cleaning bathrooms. It gets me up early, gets me out of the house, and I get to talk to the few other people who work there in the morning. Then, I’m back by 7:45 and I can start my day.”
To me, this sounded like an absolute dream. As an extrovert who naturally wakes up at 6:30 and has been hating spending the hour and a half before work doomscrolling every morning, I couldn’t think of a better way to start my day than to get up and out early. When I was in college, I worked several jobs just for fun and it was honestly the time in my life when I felt most myself.
I told Katie how amazing that sounded and I almost said that I should be thinking more outside the box to figure out how to solve my problems. But then I realized…
“THERE IS NO BOX!” I yelled at her over Zoom.
So many times, we get caught up in the boxes that society creates or that we create for ourselves. Wear a suit and tie, work 40 hours per week, only work in the field that you studied in college, don’t be friends with your exes. So many preconceived boxes that we allow ourselves to be shoved into. But there’s no reason that we can’t let them go completely. The boxes don’t exist.
Find a job where you can wear sweatpants. Work the hours you want to work. Choose any career field you like. Live with your ex and be best friends. It’s your life! Create the life you want, even if it’s not the traditional box life.
Now that I’ve realized that I can create the life that I want, I’ve started to work with the assumption that there are no boxes. If I need to get out of the house and see people, I’ll find the perfect way to do so, whether it’s a group activity or a job. If I need something to do early morning and need accountability to get it done, I’ll find someone to join on their morning activities. There’s no one right answer for all of life’s problems, but there are a plethora of great answers that we may never even consider!
The next time you’re trying to come up with a solution to a problem you’re having or you’re struggling to do something you want because it disregards the box, just go with the solution that will make you happiest and make the most sense for your life.
There’s no need to think outside the box if you remember that there is no box in the first place!