I really hate boxes, not the cardboard kind that proves useful to store things. Although I’m not a fan of these when it comes to moving house! No, the boxes I’m talking about are the ones that people try to place on others. Maybe that we sometimes place on ourselves too.
They are the boxes that society has created. The ones that say if you are bubbly then you are stupid, if you are friendly then you are a flirt and if you are young then you must be naïve.
Discovering The Box
My introduction to boxes happened at a young age. At school I struggled when it came to maths. I think an intense dislike didn’t help either but it was an area that I never seemed able to overcome. At secondary school, I was left to flounder, made to feel stupid which resulted in my self worth plummeting. However, I excelled when it came to algebra. This always unnoticed by my teachers. For years I accepted that I fitted into the box that said I was stupid.
The Effect of Boxes
When it came to applying for jobs, I would actively avoid any I thought would require maths of any kind. However, the day came when I had a surprise aptitude test. Gripped by an intense fear, I sat there looking down at the paper. My hands shaking, close to tears. That test, I scored 7 out of 35. The idea that I fitted into the stupid box reinforced. The little voice inside of me, telling me different, silenced in the face of such overwhelming evidence.
In time, I was headhunted to work for a Global Investment bank. An amazing salary glistened before me but how could I avoid maths in finance? I had no choice but to face my fear. I was right about not being able to avoid maths, in fact I had to provide a matrix of percentages on a weekly basis. However, this time I didn’t struggle. I re-familiarised myself with the formulas and I whizzed straight through it. But in my mind, I still remained in the box I’d always been in because that’s where I belonged.
Questioning the Box
Years later, after being successfully enrolled onto a Graduate Diploma course, the little voice inside me that questioned the box began to rise. A curiosity filled me so I bit the bullet and took an online maths test. Sitting there, I tapped through the answers quickly, the memory of the aptitude test flashing in my mind. As I waited for the results, my heart was pounding. Seconds later the result flashed across the screen…72%. Looking at the result I didn’t know how could I have scored that? I was stupid. I’d accepted that. My teachers expressed that view, my exam results and my aptitude test had all confirmed it. So what was this? How could it all be wrong?
This was answered when I chose to fully face my fear and enrol on an adult’s maths course. In order to be admitted I had to take a maths test. The familiar fear filled me, my hands began to shake and tears welled in my eyes. My confidence leaving me completely. My voice cracking when I admitted I had a maths block that I just couldn’t overcome.
When the results came back, the lady looked at me and said “Yes, you do have a block, I can see it. All the easy questions you got wrong and all the hard questions you got right. You can’t answer the harder questions unless you know the easy ones. Your block isn’t your ability, it’s your confidence.”
Sat in silence, I was dumbfounded. If I wasn’t stupid then what was I? Thinking back to my school days I remember how good I’d been at algebra and suddenly I was confused.
“I was always good at algebra at school, it was the only area that I really excelled in when it came to maths.”
“That’s because you felt comfortable with algebra. It’s clear from these results that when you lose confidence you stop trying and just guess. It’s impossible for you to be able to understand algebra without knowing this. You couldn’t have the high standard of education you have if you really struggled the way you think you do. You use maths every day you just don’t realise it.”
Realising I’m in the Box
Suddenly the realisation dawned on me. I wasn’t stupid. I’d been placed in a box by my teachers. They had decided I was stupid and chose to treat me that way, choosing to ignore anything that didn’t support their view of me. I’d merely learnt to believe it. If I was told I was gifted, if I’d been nurtured then I would have responded to that too. If you place a flower in darkness, how can you expect it to grow? If it doesn’t grow, does it make it less of a flower? No, it’s a product of its circumstances just like I had been. I carried the burden of my box for a large part of my life. Held myself back, felt ashamed but the truth was the complete opposite. The saddest part is that I know I’m not the only one, so many people will know this feeling. Some may never make the realisation, instead conforming to their box, taking others views of them as fact.
Facing my Fears
For me though, I was determined to face my fear, taking the adult math class and improving my confidence was the hardest but best thing I ever did. A few years later I decided to take the ultimate test. I completed the MENSA pre-qualification test. There is no higher test that can be taken (that I know of) which was good enough for me. Finally, I would have a resolute answer on my intelligence based on me not the box someone had decided I should fit into. I completed the test with no fear, no dread, my hands did not shake because I knew I had nothing to prove to anyone. This was for me and I’d accept the results whatever the outcome.
The results revealed that in the MENSA pre-qualification test I scored 83% and with a score of that level it was likely I would score highly in the formal IQ test. Finally, I had categorical proof that I wasn’t stupid at all (although I’ll always be able to give a good impression!). So how is it possible that I could spend most of my life believing I was? How could I be capable of achieving that score, yet score 7 out of 35 in my previous aptitude test? It truly is about confidence and that’s what I hate most about boxes.
If you are not aware of the dangers of these boxes, if you are not confident in yourself or your own abilities then these boxes become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You allow yourself to become what you are told you are and in that moment, you lose all your potential. The only way to overcome it is to know yourself and your abilities. To trust yourself above everyone else and find the strength to be who you are no matter what.
Unfortunately, these boxes are a part of our lives but that doesn’t mean we need to conform to them. Confidence is the key to rising above them, if someone can’t accept that they have you wrong, then it’ll always say a lot more about them then it will say about you. If you feel fearful then face it because it’s only an illusion. The only power fear has is what you give it. By facing your fear you will break it’s hold over you. That’s not to say it won’t be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. It certainly won’t be easy but it will be worth it.
Maybe you have a child at school being made to feel stupid? If so, help them understand the primitive way that intelligence is scored in our education system. That true intelligence doesn’t come from how well you do in one test on one day. Give them the confidence to know that they are the masters of their own fate and a set of bad exams is a challenge not a life sentence.
Breaking Free of the Box
I know this because I was that child. Placed into the box of someone that would never achieve anything in life. When I expressed an interest in being a journalist, my careers advisor suggested working in a shop would be more appropriate for me. However, I refused to accept that analysis of my ability. Even when I received my appalling exam results, I knew they didn’t reflect anything more than a troubled school life. I knew what I was capable of. That I could achieve my dreams. Instead of accepting I’d failed, I negotiated a three-month trial for my desired course at college. This is where I excelled, successfully completing the course and achieving the required qualifications needed take up my offer at university to study Journalism. I graduated from university with a BA (Hons) degree in Journalism. Years later, I successfully completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Law, an intense course with a 33% rate of failure. However, had I listened to the perceived wisdom of my teachers or careers advisor, I’d never would have achieved any of this.
That’s why I hate boxes, they serve no purpose but to limit potential in a destructive way. Decreasing a person’s confidence until they become just what they are told they are. No one knows you better than you. If you believe you can do something, you’re already half way there. While many people may place you in a box, the only person that can keep you there is you. By understanding this, you can break free of your box just like I did and realise the potential you know you hold.