Saturday, May 25, 2013

Boxed In

It happens, a lot.  Family members do it, friends do it, employers do it, we even do it.  "What is it?" you ask. It's boxing someone into our perception of them; unknowingly (or sometimes knowingly) limiting them because we don't want to see them any other way than the way we have always seen them.

People attempt to keep their lives orderly by sorting through and labeling things and people, either consciously or metaphorically putting them in boxes so they know exactly what's what and who's who.  While that works great for things, it doesn't work for people. Problem is, most people want to learn and grow, want to try new things, have new experiences; not just stay in a rut of status quo (boxed in).  This desire often conflicts with the perception others have of them and its frustrating both for the individual seeking change and for their family and friends who don't want to see the individual in any other perspective.

I'd like to give you a few examples, so you can really grasp this and examine it to see where you are boxing in others and how and where they are boxing you in. This is not about finding blame, its about recognizing the pattern/behavior in yourself and others so you can address it in a way which will remove the box and open up choice and opportunity.  So let's begin with a workplace example.

An employee who is exceptionally good at their job likely has a boss who knows and appreciates it.  However, what if the employee would like to do something else? Take on a different aspect of the work or perhaps even apply for a position elsewhere in the company; in other words take a step up.  They are looking for an opportunity to grow and learn, to take a risk of sorts, take on something that will challenge them instead of continuing to do the same old thing.  Problem is, the boss can't see (or doesn't want to see) their other talents and abilities because they're so good at what they're doing now.  The boss may say to them, "You're so great at this, you have a natural talent/ability for it, why would you want to go and do 'that' instead?"  While its likely it's meant as a compliment, it holds the employee back and while it may be OK for a while, eventually the employee get frustrated and bored.  Frustration and boredom lead to dissatisfaction and they begin to look to other companies, hoping to find an opportunity that will inspire and challenge them.  End result is the boss and company loses a great employee simply because they couldn't see past the box they had put the employee in.

Of course this challenge works both ways.  Sometimes changing companies doesn't solve the problem.  Potential employers may look at your resume and only see what you have been currently doing and not pay attention to your past experience, knowledge or skill set.  This too can be frustrating because the truth is, we are so much more than what we do.  Most people, given the opportunity are anxious to learn and experience new things; to wrap their minds around new technology, to strive to improve on what they already know and to be an active part of a company and to contribute not only the skills they already have but also the skills they have been developing or want to develop.  Just because we want to do something else, try something new, it doesn't mean we have forgotten everything we knew previously; it simply means we want to expand our knowledge, become better, more rounded, engaged employees.  

Visionary employers see both the experience and the potential.  They are able to fully grasp how the varying skill sets of a current or future employee can be utilized and expanded upon; giving the employee room to grow within the company.  These leaders with vision understand, encourage and support their employees desire for advancement because they know employees who are interested in their own growth and development are going to be employees who are engaged in the growth and progress of the company as a whole.

It's this vision, this ability to see potential, we all need to develop in our professional lives and especially in our personal lives.  Imagine how much happier and healthier our children would be if we allowed them to try a variety of sports or musical instruments or arts.   So very often a child shows a natural ability/skill in a certain sport or artistic talent and suddenly it becomes the only focus.  The child may express an interest in something else in a wistful tone, "It would be cool to try that" only to be told, "Why would you want to when you're so good at....".   So the child is boxed into this very limiting perception of their abilities by their parents. The child may then grow to hate the thing they are good at simply because it has stopped them from experiencing other things.   Who is to say they can't be good at more than one thing?

As a parent, a teacher, a mentor, you should be encouraging them to experience and try different things.  It is through trying and experiencing they develop an appreciation for a variety of activities, cultures and even the differing personalities of others.  If you close them off to opportunities as children, it is unlikely they will seek out opportunities as adults.  Encouraging healthy activities where there is an opportunity to learn and grow, to take on challenges, to work with others whether its on a team or in social activities are all things we need to encourage and develop in our children if we want them to be happy healthy adults.

Which brings us to our adult family members and our friends.  Are we boxing them in or are we supporting their desire for growth?  We like to see our family and friends happy and the tendency is to see 'happy' as 'secure'.  Security in this day and age usually means financially secure, so we don't like to see those we love taking unnecessary risks which may jeopardize their financial security and ultimately make them (and us) unhappy.  While we like to believe we are "always there for them",  "in their corner", that we've "got their back", do we really?  If your spouse, parent, adult child, or best friend came to you and said "I want to quit my job and do "x" instead"  What would you say?

Odds are it would be very similar to the comments the boss I mentioned above would say. "But why?  You are good at your job, you make good money, you have security there, why would you want to risk all that and do "x" instead?"  We need to take a step back, to look through their eyes at the challenge/risk they want to undertake. We need to listen to them and by that I mean we really need to hear them, not just listen enough to answer or argue the point.  Are they passionate about it?  Do they have a plan?  Are they committed to it?  Have they thought it through? Weighed the pros and cons? and most importantly, is there something you can do to help them succeed? Whether its offering knowledge, experience, encouragement or support, whatever you can do will show them you truly are in their corner more than mere words ever will.

And finally, there is one more box; the box we put ourselves into.  How others perceive us and our desire to be the image of what others perceive us to be puts us into a self-created box.  Living up to the expectations and perceptions of others leaves very little room to be who we truly are.  After a while, the frustration builds to anger and resentment, leading to an emotional blow up and relationships shatter.

However, the importance of being who you are, being true to you, is the foundation of a healthy relationship simply because if you are not being you, then the entire relationship is built on a lie.  So, if you have boxed yourself in, its time to start to take the steps needed to step out of the box.  Allow others to see you as you.  It may surprise you to find out they love you just the same or more.  Those who don't, well, they didn't love you in the first place,  they simply loved their perception of you.

Once you've stepped out of your self-imposed box, ask yourself, "who am I boxing in?" and what can I do now to take them out of the box I've put them in so I can see them as they are, an individual with a multitude of talents and even more potential than I ever realized.