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A few weeks ago, I was talking with a former colleague who I hadn’t spoken to since just before we left. It was a pretty quick catch up session but reminded me why as humans, we often find ourselves placed in little boxes of who we think we are supposed to be as opposed to who we are created to be.

At one point during the conversation, they were struggling to understand all the changes that have happened in my life since moving abroad, particularly as it relates to my career. It was hard for them to wrap their head around the idea of me sitting on a beach editing a manuscript or taking a client call as compared to navigating my way through media schedules and boardrooms in 5 inch heels.

I posed the question back to them, if life is supposed to be about growth and change shouldn’t our careers be part of that equation?

I have come to find that even though uncertainty can be scary, by embracing change, massive growth happens in a way that simply can’t if we remain the same – staying inside the box of comfort or familiarity.

After that conversation, the topic kept coming up. Two friends had both just gone through similar situations – one being questioned about her career trajectory and the other being questioned about their relationship status.

It left me wondering why as humans we project our own ideas onto others, thinking that what makes us happy should be the same for everyone else.

“Why aren’t you married yet?”

This was the question posed to my friend who recently went through a divorce and now finds themselves navigating through single parenting. Jumping into another relationship doesn’t rank high on the priority list. Instead they want to focus on their own personal growth and allow the space they need to do so in this season of their life. But not everyone in their circle of friends understands. And while the question may come from a place of love, it is a projection of their own expectation placed on another person.

What fulfills one person in their life may be completely different for the next.

Years ago, I remember a friend of mine from high school asked me when I was going to ‘grow up.’ I was home from New York City for a few weeks during my annual trip back to spend time with family at the lake. The question stopped me dead in my tracks because at the time I had my own apartment on the Upper West Side just a few blocks from Central Park and a career that I loved. I was happy and life was exactly where I wanted and needed it to be, particularly at that juncture. I was single, successful, and living life on my terms.

For them, ‘growing up’ meant getting married and starting a family. For me, it meant doing all the things I wanted to do for myself to feel whole before taking on that type of commitment or the responsibility of parenting.

Both of us came from completely different perspectives, neither right or wrong. But what worked for her in her life was just that – hers. It was never going to work for me. That was simply her expectation for what life should look like, which didn’t match up with my reality.

That conversation stuck with me through the years and often serves as a good reminder that each of us has our own path – whether you understand and can relate to it or not.

All of us are simply doing the best we can to live life – to learn the lessons, to follow our dreams, to find our purpose, and when we reach the end, to know we lived life with no regrets.

But is life without regret possible if we are taking on the expectations of others as our own truth? Can you truly feel whole if you are living within the box others have placed you in?

Living my life according to everyone else would have meant getting married immediately following graduation from college and staying close to home. I live in Australia and got married/had children in my mid-to-late 30’s, so this doesn’t need a lot of elaboration. But what about those who feel limited by the expectations of others and think they need to fulfill the vision that others have for their life?

It’s the friend who went to medical school because their parents are doctors but secretly wants to be a teacher. Or the lawyer who secretly wants to be a writer. It’s the friend who is beautiful but was told they would never be a scientist because they didn’t ‘look the part.’ Or the woman who simply wants to get an education but is told she can’t because she needs to be a mother and tend to the home.

While our experiences may shape our lives, we don’t need to tie ourselves to them and die by the sword of them, thinking we can’t change or evolve past them.

Our experiences are just that – experiences. And when you have learned the lesson from one, you should be able to allow that wisdom to help you move on to the next.

The only guarantee in life is change.

And your life isn’t meant to be dictated by someone else’s expectation of who they think you are supposed to be or how they think you should live your life.

If you are feeling like you are living your life according to everyone else, perhaps it is time to break free from the box you have been placed in and follow your heart.

Years ago, I started asking candidates who were interviewing to work for me, “if you knew the world was ending in 2 months, what would you do differently in your life?” I made sure to tie it into their career aspirations since they were applying for a job. But, the answers were always very telling. And if they wanted to do something completely different than the course they were currently on, my next question was always, “what is stopping you from doing those things now?”

This week, take some time to yourself and truly ask if you are living life according to where your heart wants you to be or are you simply living life from a box you have been placed in? Do you feel fulfilled or trapped by your circumstances and surroundings? Allow yourself to examine where life would take you if fear didn’t exist. And then remove that fear and break free from the box you have been living your life from.

If you knew the world was ending in 2 months, what would YOU do differently?

Cheers to a new week and living life outside the box!

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