When I was a little girl I had a box collection. It was an awesome collection, and my daddy was my source and supplier. He ran a metal fabrication business that was located in the Old Atlantic Ice House in Decatur, GA, and the fittings, elbows and pipes that he ordered for this or that piece of equipment came in an endless variety of boxes.
The hoses and pipes with threaded ends that he commonly used on car wash booms always arrived with little plastic caps on the ends to protect them. These caps were yellow or blue or even occasionally red and orange, and they fit perfectly onto the tops of my fingers. I could take a pen or marker and draw eyes a nose and a mouth on my finger put one of those caps on top, and I had an instant finger puppet. Or I could count the caps and sort them into boxes by color or size. Once the boxes were filled with caps they would shake and rattle, perfect little maracas. I could spend time figuring out how many small boxes I could get packed into a single larger one—puzzle solving, only I was not only solving the puzzle, I was creating it.
The counter in the office of my dad’s shop had cabinets behind it, and two of these cabinets were filled with my boxes. Sometimes I would open the cabinets to play with my boxes and find that Daddy had added a new one to my collection. Sometimes I would linger while he or Mom opened the packages that the UPS man left, ready at a moment’s notice to scavenge the latest box.
I was reminded today of my box collection when my daughter picked up a box that a watch had come in. I had given this box to her a while back, and it has become a favorite item in her toy box. When she opened this box the first time, she discovered the little pillow around which the band of the watch that it contained had been fastened. My daughter has innumerable toys at her disposal, electronic ones that beep and buzz, mechanical ones that go “pop” or spin around, and every doll or stuffed animal imaginable. Yet what she wanted to play with today was the box and its little pillow. It became a bed for a doll, a pillow for her head, a pillow for daddy to comfort his “owie”, a sponge to clean the table.
To her, the box had endless potential and could become anything her mind wanted it to be, unlike the fancier toys, which, though entertaining, could only be what they are.
These days we are inundated with business, leadership and creativity coaches challenging us to think outside the box. I’m not sure that is the right challenge. Anybody can think outside the box. But not just anybody can look at the empty box, defined by its sides and shape and be creative within those confines.
We have to live our lives with what we are given, the boxes that we have at our disposal in the present moment. Yes we can (and probably should) strive for better boxes, but if we spend all of our time striving for a bigger, better box, we may never see the joy and potential that is inherent in the boxes that we have around us. We lose the potential of the present, if we are always seeking outside the box.
So as my daughter plays with her boxes (and she is amassing an impressive collection), I smile and remember rainy days spent on the floor of the office of my dad’s shop in the old ice house—playing with boxes, building cities populated by “cap people”. And I think that once again my daughter has reminded me of an important lesson. I need not to be so bent on changing boxes in the future that I fail to enjoy life in the present, to realize the potential, to do the truly valuable thing and be creative inside the box.
© 2009 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.