How To Live “Outside of The Box”

“One of the most sacred duties of one’s destiny is the duty to be yourself.”

– John O’Donohue

“[Some people] have a deep awareness that fulfillment cannot be found through acquisition and achievement. They often feel like misfits because of the different, deeper, ungraspable love they feel inside them. For them, the journey is not so much toward realization of their desire as toward being able to claim the desire they already have in a culture that neither understands nor supports it.”

– Gerald D. May

For as long as I can remember I’ve never felt as if I “fit in.”

I’m a gay man, so I remember as a boy feeling as if I didn’t belong with the other boys. I couldn’t identify with them, or understand why they were so rough and tumble with each other. I never understood their fierce competitiveness, or their near violent obsession with the opposite sex. Straight boys have this need to constantly prove their masculinity to each other, and I always found that incessant and brutal rite of passage exhausting—so I’d opt out it often and just be the quiet kid who kept to himself. This, of course, made me a kind of loner for much of my childhood years.

I’m also Latino, so I remember as a boy feeling invisible when I looked on TV, or watched movies, and didn’t see a face that looked like mine on the screen. The people on TV didn’t eat tortillas, or chile like my family did, and didn’t dialogue in a strange compendium of English, Spanglish, and Spanish like my family did. The people in the movies didn’t travel to Mexico every summer to visit their relatives. When you grow up with few representations of your community in the mainstream, you often feel unseen and overlooked. You are keenly aware of not being “normal.”

I’m also an artist, and so, for as long as I can remember I have always felt like my artistic work never really contributed anything important to the community. During college, I studied theater. I acted in, wrote, directed, and produced plays. But it was hard not to feel as if I wasn’t a misfit among a group of misfits when compared to my fellow, more sober university students. My theater friends and I all dressed weird, we were far too melodramatic, we had strange tastes, and we had a quirky sense of humor.

I have so many fond memories of being in the theater world. Yes, we were all weird, and all so “out-of-the-box,” but we had so much fun and we loved each other very much. We laughed until we were sore, we played until we were exhausted, and we even experimented late into the night. The rest of the university may have gathered that we weren’t really working because we were having so much fun, but we, the theater people, would’ve argued fiercely to the contrary. No, our work was not conventional, and it was often harder to understand why it was so necessary for humanity, but we couldn’t help ourselves: theater was who we were.

Now, today, I am a writer working on his first novel. I am also a blogger who blogs about the novel-writing process. We forget, because we have so quickly gotten used to it, but my position is a relatively new one in this day and age. It is very “unconventional.”

So, yet again in my life, I find myself living completely outside of the box.

This is why, if you were to ask me what being normal feels like, I don’t think I could ever give you an answer.

I’ve never been “normal.”

How to Live Outside of The Box

If you, too, feel as if you must live life “outside of the box,” you might be asking yourself:

How do I live outside the box?”

Well, in my experience, you just have to accept that you have no choice in the matter.

If you live outside the box, then you were born to live outside the box.

I was born gay, I was born Latino, and (it is my belief that) I was also born to be an artist. (As I said many times before: a writer is who you are, not what you do.)

So, no, I don’t think you have any choice. The only choice you have is the choice between denying your true nature and just accepting it. Which really isn’t a choice at all: it’s like a choice between life and death—and who would choose death, when you can live?

Now, many people go through life denying who they really are. These people suffer. They may seem to “fit in” on the outside, but leave no doubt: they are suffering inside. (There are grave consequences to denying who we are.)

Although it may seem difficult in the short-term, in the long-term, accepting who you are will bear you much fruit. On the other hand, denying who you are, although it may seem to be beneficial in the short-term, will cause you heavy damage in the long-term.

Spare yourself that damage. Just accept who you are.

Stop Trying To Fit Into “A Box”

Many of the questions I get from my readers are “please-put-me-back-in-the-box” questions. They are questions that ask me how a person can conform to an ideal: how can they can become more “normal,” more “conventional,” more “disciplined,” more like the perfect writer they all imagine exists someplace, somewhere.

Often, I work very hard to untangle their questions. I try to change the intention:  I try to get them out of trying to fit “into a box,” and I try to get them into cherishing and rejoicing the fact that they are unique individuals who are meant to live “outside of the box.”

This is a very hard thing to do, as I often receive much resistance. People are desperately trying to fit into a “box,” and they really don’t like it when you tell them that there is, in fact, no “box” to fit into.

But, I swear to you, being “in the box” is completely overrated.

In fact, I am starting to think that nobody has ever fit into a box, and none of us will ever fit into one. We are just not mean to be conventional. Each of us is meant to be brand-spanking new.

I really, truly, believe that our journey is not to learn how to become more like everyone else, our journey is to learn how to become more like ourselves.

Our destiny is to live “outside of the box.”

much unconventional love,

Ollin

Today’s Courage Exercise

Is there an area in your life in which you have been desperately trying to imitate the behavior, patterns, formulas, routines, or successes of others? Has this attempt to fit “into-the-box” left you with zero results? Has trying to be “normal” left you exhausted? Has trying to be “conventional” led you to hate yourself for not being “good enough” at life as others are?

If this has happened to you then, today, give up your desperate attempt to follow the convention, and decide instead to live “outside-of-the-box.” Try to succeed, grow, change, and progress in the way that you succeed, grow, change, and progress—not in the way that others do. Sure, this way of living may not look the way it is “supposed” to look like, but change is change, isn’t it? Growth is growth, ain’t it? Success is success, no matter how you slant it, wouldn’t you agree? Progress is progress, no matter what it looks like on the surface.

What does it matter if your way of life looks a bit funky? Funky is still beautiful.

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18 comments on “How To Live “Outside of The Box”

  1. Wow, Ollin, thanks for this. I struggled for years, still sometimes struggle with the reality of my outside-the-box lifestyle as a writer, freelancer and artist. I get wrapped up in the idea that I’m being irresponsible and responsible people have a salaried 9 to 5 position,even though if I’m honest, that’s not who I am, nor what I’m looking for…

  2. I, too, have lived outside the box ever since I can remember. At first, when you’re very young and not too aware of society in general – okay, when I was a toddler – you’re not aware you’re out there in a different world. When I felt that way, I could close my eyes and see infinity and I could compose little songs on the piano. Then I was told, age 3, that those songs were ones I heard on the radio. Crash and burn! But I did that, I wanted to shout. But I didn’t. I kept my hurt inside and started looking around. As I grew up, and left class to go to violin class (oh, you’re weird) and then became the introverted person I enjoyed (come on, speak up, go out and play, quit reading so much) it became harder and harder to stay on track with my musical and literary (apparently) pursuits. And I was born in the South a female – right away you are marked for a certain life including a husband, children, no career, not even a college degree. I hated that mark and I hated the South when I would encounter those attitudes. I left there as soon as I could. But I was still crippled by society’s mark on me. Throughout my adult life I have wanted to live as an artist, but I could never see how I could do it, how I could make enough money, how I could be seen in the good graces of my family, of society. For the past 20 years I have wanted to be a writer fulltime. I could never see how I could do that. So in the midst of that yearning, I bought my first home, a condo. 12 years later I’m selling it at a loss. I was trying to do something that was not me, that I really didn’t want, love, desire. I wanted to write and to be free to express myself. Finally, now that I’m even more invisible to society as a person with a chronic and terminal illness, I am free to make that decision to be a writer. Finally I am the person outside the box…and happy for it.

    Thank you so much for writing this post, Ollin, as a deep reminder that as artists we remain outside society’s box, but that there is a lot of love from other artists as we begin to assert ourselves and claim our artistry. It is an indestructible force. Eternal. Because it is life and our souls we are talking about. I’ve found a lot of support and love from you and your posts and your artistry, your willingness to live outside the box. Thank you and much love to you.

    • Ollin says:

      Moving story Dana! One I am sure many readers will identify with. I love the other solution you gave to this problem: have “out of the box people” support other “out of the box” people. If, for instance, artists keep reaching out and supporting other artists, then maybe this is another way to live outside of the box: understood and supported by our fellow comrades. Great point to make! And it’s a very important one. Much love to you, too!

  3. MarinaSofia says:

    Thought-provoking, as always. I’ve also been an ‘out-of-the-box’ person, because I grew up abroad, went to my home country as a teenager but never really fitted in there, have moved now many times to other countries and have no place or culture that I could call my own. I have never worried too much about this lack of belonging, but I am struggling when I see it in my children. Perhaps because I cannot bear them to be unhappy.
    Isn’t that strange? I wouldn’t say that I have been unhappy because I’ve been different, but I have sometimes been lonely. And always striving for more, never quite satisfied. So I want to protect my children from that. I almost want them to be more ‘normal’, content with less and therefore happier. Does that make sense?

    • Ollin says:

      That makes total sense to me. We don’t want our children to feel any pain or suffering. I wonder, though, if you can find peace with the lack of contentment issue? I mean, if you want to help your children, maybe a way to do that is see if you can’t find peace with that yearning feeling. Then, when you learn how to deal with that feeling, you can teach your kids how to deal with it, too.

      Of course I do not have children of my own. But I often think about my relationship with my parents. And how sometimes I wish they could solve problems I have that they also struggle with. But recently I realized that the reason they can’t help me with my problems is that they haven’t solved the problems for themselves. So how could they teach me something they do not know ?

      For me I have tried to promise myself that I need to find fufillment and happiness, so that I can teach my kids how to achieve the same. Otherwise I will always feel empty and so will my kids, and I won’t be able to help them.

      I hope that makes sense.
      I’

      • MarinaSofia says:

        I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s usually on my ‘down’ days when I wish that I could have been content with boxed-in living, and start thinking of whether I should help my children to decorate their box instead of look beyond it. Other days, I realise you can’t spare anybody the pain, the mistakes, but also the exhilaration of stepping out of the box!

    • I know it’s not my business but I think it makes perfect sense. It sounds like you’re being an awesome parent. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to “not belong” and even though it turned out well for yourself, it doesn’t always turn out that way for everyone. I think you’re worried that it might not turn out the best for your children, and it sucks to see them unhappy.

      I think it’s natural. I’ve been through some things that I hope other people never have to go through, but when I look back, I’m kind of happy in a sense because it made me who I am. But I do remember how hard it was and that makes me feel like others shouldn’t go through it.

      • MarinaSofia says:

        Thank you for your kind comments. I guess it is natural, but when I stop and think about it rationally, it’s also a wee bit patronising. ‘Don’t make my mistakes’ or ‘Here’s what you should be doing’, as if I know everything better, or as if I can put them in a glass bell for the rest of their lives. But thanks for trying to understand…

  4. Great post, Ollin. Truly inspirational.
    I was always quiet and introverted, and I’d known I had wanted to write from a very young age, so I fit the mold. But, my passive, quirkiness left me open to a lot of ridicule. Being a victim of bullies, which included a lot physical attacks, over the years, I’ve tried to stay strong and be myself. It’s the only thing that’s kept me sane. My mother was the rock that I found solace and comfort in. (Aren’t they always, though.) I learned later on in life, that the same people that tormented me, were just jealous because I embraced who I was while they were breaking their backs to live in the box. So, in the end, I feel sorry for them.

  5. RD Meyer says:

    Cut up the box – it shouldn’t exist anyway. Make oragami instead. 😀

  6. I’ve always lived outside of the box. Grew up in a small town where everyone was related except us. When to a school that was part of an orphange, from my home. Was accelerated a number of times in school….and on and on and on. Finally in my mid 30s, I realized that much of my life had been a blessing and that being out of the box is great. now I’m older…and it’s even easier to live outside of the box. After all, I know nobody cares, except me. yay

  7. This really resonates with me. I never fitted in any box either, and I came to terms with that long ago. As an artist, a performer and now a writer, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to live anywhere else. Trouble is, there aren’t too many who really live outside the box in terms of the way you view the world and what you aim for etc, so I tend to be a bit of a hermit and, even among artists, my art/writing needs a particular audience to truly be appreciated, You’ll notice that my gravatar is me climbing out of a box.

  8. […] I spoke to you about what it is like when your very nature is contradictory to the norm. When the very basis of who you are is unconventional, life can be very challenging. But sometimes […]

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