We all feel boxed-in sometimes, defined by labels set by others, gridlocked by limits we set on ourselves. Arrested in development by our own inability to accept that we are a glorious mess of walking contradictions, Let’s explore the power that these boxes and labels have over us and how to set ourselves free to be ourselves.
Over the course of our lives, we accumulate many boxes and labels.
At one time in my life, I was a ‘Student’. ‘Volunteer’. ‘Fat’. ‘Smart, but not sexy’. ‘Extroverted’, which felt at odds with my insecurities. I’ve also had many different ‘job titles’ and other ‘career labels’, such as ‘un(der)employed’, ‘job searcher’, ‘aspiring researcher’. I’ve sometimes felt both Dutch and Brazilian – while I’ve got two Dutch parents…
Some of these labels we assign to ourselves make us feel good, others not so much. Labels help us define ourselves. They also help others identify us. In some ways, being in the box helps us feel safe because it shapes the apparently chaotic nature of our lives and identity into a sense of order.
For me, since I graduated, I’ve mostly struggled with the career labels. After university, in the midst of the Crisis, I couldn’t immediately apply the right label to myself as ‘successful job acquirer in my field’. This was a tough time for me because I felt like I needed a good label to identify myself with. To feel successful. A stamp of approval.
We forget that we are so much more than our job titles or any other label. We can contribute in many more meaningful ways.
We tell ourselves that OTHER people put us into these boxes by not seeing who we really are. I’ve certainly felt misunderstood and underestimated. Like I didn’t have a chance at success.
We blame others for boxing us in. I’ve done so for years. The “they say that I…” or “according to them, I…” -syndrome.
But is that really true?
Can someone else put you into a box, when you don’t accept the box?
Eleanor Roosevelt said:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
We often label ourselves, and in doing so, we are the limiting factor. What other people see or think of you, isn’t essential.
I know this is a difficult concept to grasp, even for me, but let me repeat it:
What others see or think of you isn’t important.
No one can put you in a box, except the one of your own creation.
We also have the tendency to use labels for ourselves that are either/ or. Like the world is in black or white, where in truth, it’s actually grey. We tell ourselves we are smart but not sexy. Extroverted, but not introverted. We are scared, so we can’t possibly be adventurous as well. While we can simply be all those things.
I love the way Ash Ambridge from the Middle Finger Project puts it in one of her posts on being your own contradictory self:
“You don’t have to choose. […]. Two opposing forces don’t create conflict—they create stabilization. The same thing that you’re viewing as an identity crisis? Someone else is viewing as the full package. The real question is not whether you should be one or the other. The real question is whether or not you have the courage to be both.”
We have a choice to accept who we are – chaos and all.
We define our success. We determine our path. We define who we are, however contradictory we may seem.
I choose to see myself as the full package with messy chaos included – all for the same price.
At this moment that means I am a businesswoman who doesn’t know yet fully what she’s doing, but I’m putting all my passion into it, so I believe I have everything to offer the world.
How about you?
Be courageous and boldly state your duality.
I’d love to know how you deal with your own labels and insecurities when it comes to going for your dreams, let me know in the comments.