Never mind "thinking outside the box," I'm referring to living outside the metaphorical box. I've always been fascinated by individuals in history who managed to make positive contributions to society and who also managed to live outside the box. These individuals boldly defied the odds, not in the interest of making a statement but in the interest of pursuing a dream, a vision--their own reality.
Some people may label a person outside the box as a non-conformist or rebel. Some may even point fingers and accuse a person of being in the wrong or unrealistic. There is however a huge difference between destructive rebellion and a person who chooses to pursue opportunities and possibilities which lie outside the grasp of others. As a Philadelphian, I find myself drawn to our Founding Fathers since my city was a pivotal location in our nation's history. In particular, I'm drawn to life of Benjamin Franklin. His name is attached to multiple landmarks here: the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Franklin Institute, Franklin Square, etc. I've become fascinated by the man, whom we studied in history class. He was a brilliant politician, a diplomat, an inventor, a scientist, and a journalist.
How poorly would our nation be today if this man had limited himself to societal norms! This man was many things, and he succeeded in many spheres of influence. Today, we ask our young people to choose a single career--a lifetime of commitment to one thing--and we ask them to commit at a young age, often initiating this conversation in elementary school. When a person has trouble figuring that career out, they're labeled. In fact, I was accused of not knowing what I wanted. Whenever I dreamed aloud, people told me I was being unrealistic, that the world didn't work that way, and they implied I would fail if I held onto my dreams.
While nearing the end of my undergraduate career, I found myself unable to pinpoint a career direction. Neither of my two majors presented options of what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had no desire to enter into Public Relations in a firm setting, managing clients, and catering to the whims of other people. Our college, or department, brought in "successful" people in the industry who gave us dismal reports: becoming successful in the field was contingent upon someone dying in order to get a good position because people who go up the chain don't change jobs; you work long hours on an entry level salary for much of your job; you have to live somewhere like New York City where the cost of living is high, but WAIT, because you're so busy working you actually accrue savings and when you work overtime your company buys you dinner. Who in the world would find that pitch appealing? I loved the principles, and I wanted to take those skills and apply them to another setting. I thought of continuing my psychology degree and becoming a psychologist, but at some point I dreaded the thought a job where I'd sit around for eight hours, forty hours a week listening to other people's problems. Though I was good at listening to other people's problems and providing support, words of comfort, and encouragement, I certainly didn't want to make a career doing that for the rest of my life! Once again, I wanted to take the principles of psychology and apply them to something else. That "something else" was elusive.
I had naysayers, dream-killers, and in-the-box dwellers shame me because I didn't have my life all figured out at 22. Part of me wanted to lash out in anger while part of me felt the sting of rejection and frankly verbal and emotional abuse. According to them, I had no goal. I had a chat with a friend of the family who was very wise and had much gusto for life. I told her that over the course of my life, I wanted to sample different fields. Her response, "Well, that's a goal!" She lived outside the box.
I can tell multiple stories of how I defied the limited thinking of others and stifling societal norms, yet they would be too numerous for this single post. Perhaps I'll write different stories not for the purpose of patting myself on the back because I've got nothing to prove to anyone but for the purpose of encouraging any of you who needs a refreshing perspective. If your thinking is creative, innovative, and ahead of the times, don't despair if others try to shoot you down. Instead, find others like my family's friend who in one sentence showed me I had nothing for which to be or feel ashamed.
God will send you people to encourage you. It may be difficult to discern wisdom with so many opinions, or voices, differing. This happened to me. I expected those closest to me to "get me" and to support my dreams, but it was quite the opposite; it was often the "stranger" who brought the words of God to encourage me. Remember that some people, even some religious people in your life may not see clearly when it comes to you. Even out of the box thinkers may not recognize that same potential in you! People have preconceived notions of people, even of their own! They may care about you so much that they end up hurting you by trying to force you into a box in which you were never meant to live. Rather than to become embittered against such people, learn to give people the benefit of the doubt. They likely do not intend to hurt you or squash your dream. Learn to forgive as Jesus said, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." Instead, align yourself with wisdom; pursue peace, and press into God's will through scripture study and much prayer. Pray, pray, pray, and then ACT in obedience.
Scripture is filled with stories of brave men and women who lived outside the box: Abraham, Moses, David, Ruth, Esther, Deborah, Jesus, Nehemiah, and many others. In the case of having a dream, there's no greater role model than Joseph in the Old Testament. Joseph was a dreamer who ticked off a lot of people, mainly his brothers who were so peeved they plotted against his life; they planned to murder him! It took some years, and he had many twists and turns in his story, but he made it. His dreams, those the Lord gave him at night, came true. Had Joseph shied away because his brothers, and even his father, disagreed and lacked the foresight and vision to see what he saw, the history of the Israelites would be very different. He had a special destiny; he had a role in shaping Bible history. His dreams came from God.
Determine to live outside the box. Over many years of struggling with the opinions of others and working past resentment, I've come to a conclusion. The box is necessary for those who need the safety of living within a box. Conventions and norms are for those who need them in order to function. I used to judge them, but I learned that judging their needs based on who I am is no better than their desire to fit me, and others like me, within their box. Don't get sucked into the pattern of this world which urges us to rub our success in the face of dream-killers. That derails you! Your successes will speak volumes. Focus on what He is calling you to do, and keep your eyes on Him. That's all He ever asks. That's all you ever need.
What is keeping you from living outside the box?
Whose opinions do you need to ignore to move forward?
What do you need to take a leap of faith in obedience to what He's asking you to do?
How will you find the courage to move on?