Updated: Jan 25
Written by: Allie Stark, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
In every turn of life, you will be met with people who will want to put you into a box. Of course, I’m not talking about a literal box. I’m talking about mental boxes. Our brains all have the ability to quickly read someone to label them and box them up. It’s a protective mechanism dating all the way back from the days of “predator or prey,” “friend or foe.” Sometimes we decide for ourselves where we belong, and sometimes we let others decide for us. These boxes can be both beneficial and harmful.
On a superficial level, boxes can be great! Let’s say you are at a networking meeting, and you just met Phil, a plumber. You quickly file his name into the “Plumber File Box” in your brain and move on. Then, next month, a pipe starts leaking in your office, and you mentally run to that box, open it, and pull Phil’s name out so you can give him a call. The pipe is fixed. Phil has his money. Everyone is happy.
Boxes are usually only harmful on a deeper level. Sometimes you are put into a box before you are even old enough to know who you really are or who you want to be. In our youth, we listened to our parents. What they told us built our base. It worked as the foundation for what life then piles on. In families with more than one child, perhaps you were put into a box exceedingly early, hearing things like, “He is the shy one,” “She is the smart one,” or “The athletic one.” Rarely does a young child want to disappoint a parent, so they work hard to fit the narrative that has been written for them. Even if they don’t feel it fits them. Maybe you’re still trying to fit into the narrative, for instance, by attending law school when culinary arts school is really your heart’s desire.
Once we transition into school, we encounter more types of boxes. Perhaps you were placed in the Magpie group or the Eagle group in primary school based on your reading level. Despite the well-intended cute names, everyone knew who the “smart kids” were.
And, the whole class knew who would be the final kid standing at the end of a dodgeball game, just as they knew who was at bat when the pitcher would yell to the outfield, “Bring it in!”
When the yearly spelling bee came around, or it was selection time for football team captain or head cheerleader, it was no surprise who would be vying for the top spots. These titles move with you through your years of schooling until your box is ingrained into your psyche, even if it’s not where you want to be.
Maybe you are athletic, so you're a “jock,” or you're bookish, so you're a “nerd.” These titles help file you into boxes that follow you far throughout your life. Decisions you make can be based on what “box” you have been designated to. For instance, you might tell yourself a “magpie” is not smart enough to go to college, a “jock” must work hard for a scholarship to continue to play sports, or a “nerd” must always be expected to pursue higher education. But, who designated you to your box? Was it your bullies? Your parents? Your teachers/coaches?
Who is calling the shots on what label you're giving yourself, and what box are you living in?
Some of us, even into adulthood, have a hard time separating the boxes we were told we fit into from the ones we feel we belong in. Look around at your mental walls and consider who built them. Are you living in someone else's idea of who you are and what you can accomplish, or did you build these walls yourself?
While trying to build new walls, you might have someone telling you to stop. They might try to tell you that you’re wasting your time because they know what box you belong in. One of the best things about being human is that we can grow and change. We get to decide who we want to be. You are the only one who knows who you are and what you want out of your life.
If you’re feeling claustrophobic inside the box you’ve been living in, realize those walls are made of paper, not bricks, and kick them down. Then start building or continuing to build your own box with plenty of windows and doors to open and shut as needed. Because at the end of the day, we all live in a box. Only you get to choose whether you want to stay in the box someone else placed you in or if you would rather design your own floor plan.
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Allie Stark, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Allie Stark is the Founder and CEO of Moxie. Inspire. Empower. Grow., a social network designed specifically for women in business. Moxie brings women from across the globe, together on one app, to support, inspire, and empower one another to help its members grow in business and beyond. Allie is passionate about forging meaningful connections and also an administrator of several women’s friendship Facebook groups across the United States and Canada. Allie holds degrees in Psychology and Education from Nebraska Wesleyan University, and for nearly four years, has helped thousands of women make significant and worthwhile connections. Allie resides with her husband and two teenage children in Gilbert, Arizona.