I left a profession I loved a year and a half ago. I left to save my life, because in my final months of teaching, I felt utterly boxed in. I spent a lot of time thinking about boxes. A little box would sound an alarm every morning at 4:55 and I would get into a bigger box to shower. Then I would get into my moving box and drive alongside thousands of others in their mobile boxes to get to the box that was my job, spending hours in a small box – actually called a cubicle – and a larger box – my classroom. If I wasn’t in front of kids, I was in front of an electronic box doing planning and communicating with parents and administrators. Lunch was even in a box; my life was in a box.
For a nation touting the need to “think outside the box,” we sure do box ourselves in. Despite studies that suggest more well-being when we take vacations, Americans do not even use the meager days allotted annually. Even though we know that we need a certain amount of sleep each night to be healthy, sleep is low on the daily priority list for most people. We even take unnecessary risks when driving – just to get to our destination a few minutes earlier. We maintain a frenetic pace to make our livings and still we ultimately end up in – that’s right – a box in the ground. I know that this was my life before I quit.
So I left a box where I was making a living in order to start making a life. I left while I still had the chance to live, because I was increasingly certain that the way that I was making a living was in truth killing me. I now live more purposefully, take my time and focus more on even seemingly mundane tasks. There is a lovely fluidity to self-employment. Sometimes I write or edit all day; sometimes I take breaks to make some bread or go for a run. I read, feed the birds, do some cleaning.
While I still live in a couple of boxes, they no longer dictate my life. I do not claim to have figured it out. I am still trying to find a way to make a living outside the box. Shedding boxes is not easy, and I sometimes still find myself pressed up against a wall. But I feel far more creative, more free today than I have in years.
Here is the challenge: if you want to make a change, write your masterpiece, create something profound, do not just think outside the box. Live outside the box.