There was a box.
A square, four-sided box. It was dark, deep and empty… except for a little sticky note with some scribble on it. The flaps were wide open, but nothing moved. It was still, static, and silent.
The scribble on the sticky note was barely legible, but it read, “Dear whomever, I don’t fit in your box.” That’s it.
It was signed, “-Me.”
Are you stuck in a box, or anywhere else for that matter?
Not to your floor, or to your chair – or worse yet, to your couch, binge-watching Netflix or HBO. Not stuck – in a physical sense. But the question to ask yourself, “Am I stuck mentally, emotionally, spiritually?”
Let’s be honest with ourselves.
Are you at a point in your life where you are seriously stuck, with no idea how you even got here? Even worse, where you feel like you can’t achieve your dreams, or like you can’t do anything because you’re boxed in, the walls closing in around you as you try to call for help?
Okay, maybe not so dramatic. But what is that “box” that you’re stuck in? That closed-in feeling that makes you feel hopeless, like you’re defined by something other than yourself… and more importantly, what can you do to break out of it?
In this article, I’ll address three of the most common boxes that so many try (sometimes unsuccessfully) to break out of. I will show you how to break out of those boxes and remind yourself that the only two people who can define you are God and yourself.
Let’s get started!
1. Media and entertainment. I’m not talking about social media here, although social media plays a crucial role in influencing the audience – I’m talking about mainstream media and entertainment; and by entertainment, I mean everything from watching and obsessing about celebrities to TV to movies. So why is “media and entertainment” one of those “boxes” that often tries to define people?
Suffice it to say, the understatement of the century is that “celebrities are very popular.” Well… obviously. And why are they so famous? Because they have talent, passion, and they shine; and when everyone sees that, they respect them, and when enough people respect a celebrity, the respect can turn into an unhealthy obsession.
Seriously, though, celebrities often become more than just well-respected people: They become role models. And while nothing’s wrong with that, per se, a lot of celebrities are people we should only look up to because of their respective talent, not their personal life, political agendas, or lack of religious views.
Are you basing your admiration for role models based solely on their talent regardless of negative behavior, or based on their kindness, generosity, or work ethic? You’ll find that your answers might not be the same for both – but if you ask yourself that, it just may help you to refine who you find as your role model. Even if you didn’t know it, whomever you let become your role model will inevitably affect you, influence you, and ultimately define you.
As Jenna Bryner put it in her article on why celebrities fascinate us, “Humans are social beings who crave interaction with others, and we pay closest attention to the prestigious.” Clearly, as Bryner points out, our need for social interaction is beyond a mere thought, but is literally a “craving.” That’s a strong word for how celebrities influence us. That craving she speaks of is even more prominent for those celebrities that we look up to. And in all fairness, this could be a good thing or a bad thing – depending on if your role model is a positive one or a negative one.
In addition, the media has become such a commonly-depended-upon “crutch” in many senses of the word. While entertainment and media can be exciting, fun, and (seemingly) constantly invigorating, there’s a lot more to it than that.
Daniel Midson-Short, a speaker and writer, put it best when he wrote in his article on Medium.com, “When does escape through entertainment become a crutch? When do we stop living our own lives, and start living the lives of others through vicarious viewing?”
In his article, he talked about all the exciting and great things about media and entertainment – but if we let it shape our thoughts, and if we let it become a crutch of sorts, then we aren’t thinking for ourselves: The media is actually thinking for us.
And we definitely want to think for ourselves.
2. Personality tests. You heard me right – personality tests. There are so many of them, but two of the most common are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Enneagram (which is honestly too complicated for me to figure out).
Now, for a writer, it is certainly a great tool to craft personality traits to create layered, deep characters in one’s writing – but personality types are all-too-commonly used to define ourselves and who we’re supposed to be – even job candidates.
Yes, even in the professional workplace, CEOs and hirers use personality tests to figure out what “type” a possible candidate is, and if that “type” is a fit for their workplace.
While personality tests can be great to help assess what kind of personality traits you display and can contribute, they’re oftentimes not as “backed by science” as most might think.
As Dustin Robinson, digital content manager at Talentsoft and much more, wrote in his article on We The Talent, “While such tests can be helpful, the problem is that they are often built incorrectly, use bad science, and/or place people in immovable boxes, the end result being that good, talented people are being turned away, [in relationships and in the workplace], when they shouldn’t be.”
Yep, you heard it right: In relationships too.
Here is an actual excerpt from a 16Personalities article on an MBTI type (the INTP/Logician personality): “Other Analyst personalities are a natural fit [to be friends of] Logicians, who share their passion for new ideas, riddles and solutions.”
What is this saying? It’s literally saying that the “best fit” for a friend of one personality is someone else very similar to that personality, and essentially saying, “Hey, you! If you’re a certain personality, then you’ll want to be friends with someone who’s this specific personality! Now go and make friends with people that have that personality type!”
But in reality, this may – or may not – be true.
The problem with these personality tests is that they aren’t always accurate. To echo what Robinson said, the end often results in good, talented people being turned away – simply because they’re that personality type.
As Michael Timms, author, speaker, and principal of Avail Leadership, wrote in his article on AvailLeadership.com, “The reason people believe that personality assessments ‘work’ is the same reason people think horoscopes work. When we believe in the validity of some instrument that claims to give us insight into ourselves, we instinctively look for evidence to confirm that insight.”
Ladies and gentlemen, this is called “confirmation bias.”
When people think they know even just one thing about themselves (e.g. “I’m introverted and I’m very shy around people”), and some “scientifically-backed” personality test says, “You’re introverted and you’re very shy around people,” then most people automatically think, “Wow, they got that right! So what else does it say? Maybe I can find something out about myself that I didn’t know before!” And they immediately think that because the test guessed one correct thing about them, then everything else the test explains about them must be true.
It’s the same thing as horoscopes, just like Timms mentioned – whether zodiac, Chinese zodiac, or anything that tells you “who you are,” these are merely superstitions that trick you into thinking they know all about you, when in truth, they give generalized “results” that may lead you into making wrong decisions.
Psychology author and blogger Hanan Parvez performed an experiment to test the validity of horoscopes by reading the Leo horoscope to his sister who was Scorpio. He then asked her how true she thought it was.
“To my astonishment, she told me that all of it was true and matched her current life perfectly,” Parvez explains. “I then revealed to her that I was actually reading a Leo horoscope!” Parvez refers to this common response to personality assessment results as the “That’s me!” syndrome, because in truth, everyone wants to feel included and like they’re a part of some category of likeminded people that are all going through the same struggles and have the same kind of personality. Sometimes, it’s hard to be unique – but that’s just the thing: You are unique.
You are uniquely, divinely created by God, and you definitely aren’t defined by media, entertainment, personality tests, or your past failures.
And that leads me to the third, final, and vital point.
3. Past failures. Everyone makes mistakes; that’s a given. In fact, if you didn’t make mistakes, are you even human?
Sometimes, however, we let our past failures and mistakes determine who we are in our present and future. We let them depress us, we let them discourage us, and ultimately, we let them define us. However, research has shown that moving on and learning from your mistakes, rather than simply feeling sad about them, is vital in order to help you not only succeed in life, but to maintain your own unique identity.
Nicole Munoz with Nicole Munoz Consulting, Inc. states it perfectly: “Dwelling on past failures beyond the essential learning is a pure and simple waste of time. That is not the way to create success. Of course, we want to learn and change our behavior—after all, they say an apology without change is simply manipulation. So instead of dwelling on the past or pacifying the issue with a false sense of moving on, make a real pact with yourself and internalize the lesson.”
It is true that instead of mourning for a long period of time (e.g. “Why, oh, why, did I have to make that mistake?”), think to yourself, “How, oh, how, can I make sure not to make that mistake again?”
It’s important also to track your progress, accomplishments, successes, and the things that do make you feel happy about yourself, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. Track them daily. Even little tasks such as exercising, getting new projects at work, or completing tasks on your to-do list can help build up your confidence, self-esteem, and achievement meter.
As Patrick Barnhill with Specialist ID Inc. put it, “We are more successful than we think we are.”
And remember, mistakes are learning experiences, not failures. When I’m speaking to a multitude of people, one of my most important and most commonly said talking points is, “You only fail when you give up.” I then explain that mistakes are just a part of your journey; it’s up to you to dust off and get right back up and going to whatever it is that your passion is. The only time you really, truly fail is when you give up. So don’t give up – and you won’t fail!
So in conclusion, if you remember that media, entertainment, personality assessments, and past failures don’t have to define you, you can push through that barrier, turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones, and most importantly – break out of the box.
You Rock, Dream Big, and You Got This!
– Arianna Fox, 13-Year-Old Girlpreneur, Bestselling Author, Motivational Speaker, Voiceover Talent, Actress, and Teen Influence
@afoxauthor on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (Arianna Fox on LinkedIn and YouTube)