“No matter how full the river is, it still wants to grow.” – African proverb
Right from our earliest age, many of us are taught a chorus that sounds like “tick, tick, tick the boxes”. We were sung a song that listed things we had to achieve when we grew up. And nowhere in the verses of that song was the concept of ‘purposefulness’ mentioned, and how fulfilling it impacts positively on our humanity. Maybe those before us did not know about its importance, or they just wanted to bring us up like mechanical beings lest our emotions got the better of us. But what is the point of a life that merely ticks the boxes? Would it not rather be better if we cultivated an attitude that continually seeks to assess the actual merit of what has to be done, so as to enable our humanity to flourish?
Working your way through a predetermined set of targets and thinking that this constitutes greatness is a myopic view of life. That is the ‘ticking box’ syndrome. You have to go to school, so you do and tick the box. You have to get a job; you have to get married; you have to have children; you have to go to church, etc. And you do all that, so the boxes can be ticked. How many of us truly understand why we had to tick the boxes? And beyond ticking the boxes, what’s the big deal really? It is true that ticking boxes can be reassuring, but we need to understand that it cannot replace purposefulness.
It is unfortunate that for so long we have been made to perceive living as setting and having goals, and achieving them. It is a rigid view of life and one that has influenced many to live double-lives as we strove not to question lest we look dumb from the gallery. And this duplicity is the reason many of us hide our weaknesses, challenges and flaws.
Moreover, the ‘ticking box’ syndrome leads us to focus our energies on achieving personal goals that will make us look ‘successful’ in the eyes of spectators, rather than undertaking activities which bring out the best in ourselves and promotes the flourishing of our humanity. The race to look good is so high on the agenda, it is probably not surprising that ‘ticking box’ individuals use their acquisitions and positions in ways which directly and indirectly harm our humanity.
The ‘ticking box’ syndrome often inspires us to ignore a great many passions in our souls and hearts. It often affects our self-esteem. Not only do we live mechanically, we also develop some sort of phobia that our imperfections might be exposed – and this makes us hide our true selves from others, sometimes even from ourselves. It is a process that separates our hearts from our minds and we end up living conflicting lives. It makes us ordinary, so much so that we come to believe that we are too small to bring about any significant change. It makes us perceive life as being ‘out there’ and we being somewhere else; and, somehow, we are unaffected by all the dynamics.
When we are diseased with the ‘ticking box’ syndrome, we are less likely to use our creativity for good. Instead, in a mechanical way, we almost always use our creativity negatively. And we play on the excuse that ‘nothing will change’ and our positivity will only be a drop in the ocean. Thus, we conveniently conclude that it is not worth being generous to life. But when we do all we can to avoid doing the good, the consequence is that we often become calculative. Our approach to life is just about fulfilling our end of the bargain; calculating how little is needed in order to fulfil what is required.
As long as we focus on ticking the boxes, we will only do the minimum required of us. But when we seek to live purposefully, we tend to do more and more. And this will lead us into the ‘expanding the pie’ mentality whereby we can aspire or go forward in such a way that our mantra is not “I have done what needs to be done”, but “Is there more that I can do?” It is a call to live purposefully. It is a call to expand meaningfulness and to let it sync our heads and hearts. Our guide will no longer be “do this or that”, but rather the flourishing of our humanity. It is a freedom to embrace greatness, no matter how difficult it will be…
Kodwo Brumpon is a management consultant and a life coach who inspires individuals, groups and corporate bodies to think and feel that which is true, and helps them to positively respond to that which is beautiful while nudging them to let goodness govern their actions. Comments, suggestions and requests should be sent to him at [email protected]