We hear it said all the time: don't put people in boxes. Basically, don't boil a person down to a few qualities or labels and assume that he/she will always, without fail, act in accordance with the version of him/her that we've built in our heads. The truth is, people are unpredictable and constantly changing, so we shouldn't assume that someone will always be a certain way. We shouldn't act like we have other people completely "figured out," because the truth is, people are infinitely complex – or, as a professor of mine once put it, we are like onions, full of many layers that are constantly peeled away to reveal different aspects of who we are.
I wholeheartedly agree with the above argument. However, the more I've thought about it, the more I've realized that we often do the exact same thing to ourselves – we put ourselves in boxes and define ourselves (not just other people) by a few opinions, attributes, or character traits, refusing to accept that we can act or feel any differently than one, particular version of ourselves. We make blanket statements about our personality, tastes, and behavior, acting as if we will never be any different.
Our conclusions about ourselves may range from trivial things to more serious: "There is no way I will ever like [insert book/movie/music genre]! It's just not my thing." "I'm not a people person, and there's nothing I can do about it. It's just who I am." "I will never have kids. That's not what I want with my life."
Now, obviously, there are parts of who we are that endure throughout our lives. We all have a sense of self and remain the same person as long as we live, so some (or many) aspects of who we are may never change – and that's a wonderful thing! Depending on your personality, you may always be shy or outgoing or serious or bubbly. Parts of ourselves are deeply ingrained, and we may never truly change those deep-seated qualities.
In the end, there is absolutely nothing wrong with analyzing our own character and interests and drawing conclusions about ourselves. However, by placing labels on ourselves or making blanket statements about who we are, we risk acknowledging that we have room to grow and change. For instance, we may ignore the fact that as we mature and enter new stages of life, we may very well spark interests in new things. Our passions may even change daily as we find new topics, places, and things to explore, sometimes falling in love with something that we usually wouldn't give a second thought.
That movie genre you vowed vehemently to hate forever? Maybe suddenly it's one of your favorites. I can vouch from experience: despite detesting "Star Wars" for years, I, completely inexplicably, fell in love with "The Last Jedi" and have been a fan of the franchise ever since. One year ago, I would have told you I would never change my mind about "Star Wars." And yet, here I am. I could have refused to even give the new "Star Wars" movies a try, but I did give them a shot – and that completely altered my perspective.
Now, I try avoiding the word "never" when it comes to my tastes and opinions, and I try to keep exploring things I don't expect to like. After all, if I choose to remain stuck in my preconceived notions about myself, I risk missing out on new things to love and learn and try. I'm still not perfect when it comes to this, but I try to stay more open to finding new passions and interests.
Another danger of putting yourself in a box is the risk that you will use your box as a "crutch," in order to avoid making intentional, healthy changes in your own life. Let's go back to our example from earlier about not being a people person. Many people are more shy, quiet, or reserved by nature. However, there are numerous situations where choosing to remain silent simply because you're nervous around people may hurt your interactions and relationships with them.
In cases like this, you can acknowledge that while you can't change the fact that you're naturally reserved, you don't have to let your shy nature dictate all of your behavior. Making changes can be hard, but your personality doesn't always have to determine your actions. You can make the choice about how to behave. While you may very likely be shy or introverted your entire life, you don't have to hide behind these labels as excuses for not being kind and open to other people. Basically, don't let putting yourself in a box called "shyness" (or whatever word applies to you) keep you from making healthy changes to your behavior, especially in how you treat other people.
These are lessons that I myself still need to learn, and that I'm reminded of daily. We humans are simultaneously consistent and ever-changing – a remarkable thing indeed! Even as we strive not to put other people in boxes, let's also remain conscious of how we treat ourselves. By staying open to changes in ourselves, we unlock a whole new world of possibilities.