Coloring Inside the Lines

Modern life has few boundaries.

The mountains and oceans that used to hem us in through their pure geographic monstrosity can now be crossed with a few hundred dollars and a few hours to spare. Friendships and even romances can be cultivated around the world through Skype and Google Translate. A burgeoning author no longer needs connections or a kiss from fate when Amazon is ready to publish the book for nothing more than a promise of a share of the riches. College courses stream through our phones, bringing advanced knowledge to anyone who is willing to put forth the effort. The “glass ceiling” may still exist, but so do plenty of ways to break through. A lack of funds is no longer reason to avoid chasing your dreams; simply create a Kickstarter campaign and let the public fund you.

There are few firm limits imposed upon us. We live in a world that is overflowing with possibilities. It’s the life equivalent of a mile-long cereal aisle at the grocery store, overwhelming us with the available options that surpass our known interests. It can be paralyzing, because selecting one means eschewing all others. Ironically, too much choice often leads to no choice at all because we are paralyzed by possibility.

Boundaries create comfort.

I spend my days with teenagers, a group that is constantly fighting against the boundaries placed upon them. In my first year of teaching, I found opportunities to give them tasks with no boundaries. Almost without fail, the lessons failed. Presented with no limits, rather than exploring, they simply froze, their pencils held high above their blank white pages. Through trial and error, I learned how to craft assignments with enclosures large enough to allow some freedom yet small enough to provide some constraint. I constructed boundaries that were firm, yet flexible for those that needed more freedom. And they responded by taking pencil to paper, the guidelines urging them forward.

One of the reasons that life after divorce is so overwhelming is that the boundaries have been removed. Your life has gone from a coloring page where you were filling in the existing shapes to the petrifying possibilities of a clean sheet of white paper.

Start by setting your boundaries, sketching out the guidelines that you want to operate within. Make them firm small enough to push you forward, yet flexible enough to allow you to change course. The more overwhelmed you are, the more rules you need. It’s comfortable to color inside the lines. And then, once you have found your footing once again, let the color fill your life. Lines be damned.

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3 thoughts on “Coloring Inside the Lines

  1. A lovely post.
    I’m so overwhelmed sometimes I just sit for hours playing with my hair worrying about the divorce the future getting older you name it. The page feels more like a paper making factory. Plans, ideas and boundaries seem impossible to apply. Then I get migraines and insomnia and feel even more paralysed.
    I’ll try to remember your words.

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