Burn the Boxes

Posted by Tabitha Yeasley

When you’re little, you learn to identify people by the role they play, most of the time, by their profession. So we show little kids these photos and we say “Who is that?” The answer: “A fireman. A doctor. A teacher.” Yes, that might be what they are dressed as in that children’s book, and since it’s not Halloween anymore it might even be their current profession, but is that really WHO they are? No one tells you what they do when they’re not at work, their interests or hobbies, or other skills. Maybe that fireman likes to do interior design. Maybe that doctor prefers animals to people. Maybe that teacher is actually a retired MMA fighter. And maybe they all met at a KISS concert. But so much focus from the world around us when we’re growing up is on the one thing we want to be when we finally get there. The one thing. Like that’s all you get. And some people come out red faced and screaming and know that one day they will be a writer or a therapist or an athlete. And some people come out knowing that they will be all of these things. Too many things to hold sometimes. 

And people inevitably will try to put you in this box that looks like who they want you to be but the truth is: you don’t live there and you don’t have to stay there. The world will look at you and try to define you. In reality, some people are fairly easy to figure out. And then there are some of us that the world just doesn’t understand. They look at you and they see one thing, and then you open your mouth and they realize you’re other things too. But they still can’t quite place it. Maybe there isn’t a word or a label for it. For you. So they put you in the closest box that makes any sense and walk away. And if you’ve ever struggled with this, if people can’t figure you out right away, you’ve probably felt misunderstood, and less of a connection because of it. And maybe you’ve felt a little lost and have no idea which direction you should take at times. Maybe you’ve had to try to figure this out for yourself, all on your own, and maybe you’re still figuring it out. But remember this: You are not what your boss tells you you’re good at. You are not what your partner or your parents or your friends from college think of you. You are not your 9-5 or your Saturdays or your Sunday night. You are so much more. 

Yet the world still tells you to choose one thing. But I will let you in on a little secret I learned the hard way: you do not have to choose. You can be many things, or all the things. You can be a singer and an actress and a businesswoman and a producer and a mom. You don’t have to choose. And for some of us, how do you possibly choose when you have so many interests, passions, and skills? For a long time, I couldn’t figure out why I wanted to be and do so many different things. Why am I good at a lot of different things, but not really amazing at one specific thing like some people are? 

For a while, I wished hard that I could excel at just one thing, so the decision could be clear. And I tried to put myself in this box, and give myself one direction to follow, and in ways I’m still headed there, although it looks a bit different now. A bit bigger. But I’m learning that every little path that you veer off onto still gets you where you’re meant to go. Detours still get you home. I’m giving myself permission to take them because I will see more, and learn more, along the way.  

And if you’ve ever bounced around from job to job unhappy, or tried hobby after hobby until you get bored each time, and thought “Maybe there is something wrong with me and I’ll never be happy anywhere. Maybe I’ll never be satisfied.” Reality check: Maybe just not in the box that the world puts you in. So I say, screw the boxes! Put them in a pile and burn them! Stop putting yourself and each other into boxes that are too tight for us to fit in. You can’t grow inside a box. You can’t shine there either. 

So what if you still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up? I used to cry to Michael, “I want to do it all!” And the stone-hard truth he will always tell me is: you can. And when you learn that truth, it will set you free, let me tell you. When you decide for yourself that you can be exactly what you want and if that’s a lot of things or a few things or one thing, and if that changes and evolves over time, that’s quite alright. It’s all quite alright. 

And not that there needs to be a box, or a label, to make it official. But being a multipotentialite sounds pretty cool to me.