Beyond the fish bowl

You don’t belong, and that’s okay.

I am white-skinned. I am slender. I am left-handed. I am organized. I am creative. I am bookish. I am feminine. I am a woman.

We live in labels — constructed sometimes in seconds, sometimes over decades — like black-and-white dictionary definitions embedded in our skins. No one knows for how long, but we soon become encircled by these labels and their connotations. On the surface, they seem impenetrable, catch-all cures to human complexity. But reality is far too blurred to tell.

Then, there are the boxes: the boxes that these labels satisfy.

I will go to college, and major in my high school determined degree. I will be married. I will have children. I will own a house. I will have one job. I will retire. I will join society. I will be predictable. I will be happy.

These constructs — these seemingly attainable goals in life — propel the average person into his or her future. It makes sense. It makes sense to us, and it makes sense for “our future.”

But how often do we QUESTION the path we travel? What do the labels we embody SAY about ourselves? Can we REFLECT upon our choices, our actions, and realize that, in fact, we do have AGENCY to change our predestined path, to go against NORMS, to be completely INDEPENDENT beings of thought?


I do not feel “belonged.”

Struggling along on this continuum of many interests, I have failed to belong — and miserably so. I become so committed, so sure of myself and my future and my desires, until I lose sight of my inner voice, of my dream.

Suddenly, the dream doesn’t seem appropriate for me anymore, or not all that I thought it might be. And so, I diverge. I wander…and I dive in some more.

It seems to me that we throw ourselves, based upon our society-determined labels, into these boxes of isolation. We seal it up tight, we ship it off to the post-mark of our departure, and we stay. We stay rooted, we stay grounded, we stay DEPENDENT upon the four walls that surround us, that enslave us.

But what if we don’t fit the box that surrounds us anymore? What if there is something MORE, some change that cannot be possibly accounted for?

What if we were truly free from such limitations?

I’m arguing that this box-living mentality is embedded in our current college education system, into every profession we pledge our lives to, into our society of projected gender roles.

One major. One career. One calling. One future.

How absurd! I rebuke the system. Why must I be defined as one entity for 4 years of supposed higher thinking and learning? Why must I PAY the price for one end-point, one solution — one path, that all my peers walk with me? Why can I NOT walk alone, or at least walk with independent dignity?

A fish bowl. Those who live their lives by one major, by one title, by one set of labels, are CHOOSING to live in a myopic view of this complex and scattered world. Choosing not to glimpse beyond the surface. Choosing to fall in step because it is easy, because it is rewarding, and because it is expected.

And so I challenge that.

I challenge anyone who has ever felt un-belonged, who has ever doubted the box that tethers their mind, when their heart knows better. This call to action — to agency — is the living PROOF that you do not have to, or will not, be contained.

You don’t belong, and that’s okay. You will never belong to any one label than that of your own self.

It’s time to emerge from your rootedness, from your boxes. It’s time we all lived free.

This essay also appears on Medium