I Hope You Let Yourself Color Outside The Lines

When was the last time you let yourself color outside the lines? Back up… When was the last time you let yourself color, period? 

As children, we’re both given, and give ourselves, permission to play. We can adventure to new places (no matter how ordinary they may seem now). We create new worlds and stories in our imagination without concern for the passing of time. We allow ourselves to be a pirate one day and a pilot the next without considering our aptitudes or the profitability of our choice. We step into doing things we’ve never done with confidence and little consideration for the risk of embarrassment or failure. 

We color. We sit down at the table and see a blank page, choose colors that spark joy and bring to life on the page what we have in our mind’s eye, and then we risk it all by putting form to our dreams. It’s not perfect, and sometimes not even good, but it is our creation and reflects the uniqueness of who we are and we’re proud because we made it. 

When you look up the root of the word “play,” you find a lot of references to the word “toy,” which got me thinking … I wonder if I approached even some of my life more like play, then would that mean that things I look at right now as burdens and responsibilities could really just be my toys? 

Where will I make home? What will my life rhythm be? How will I build community? How will I design a life oriented around love? What will purpose look like for me professionally? 

What if instead of those things haunting me like a cartoon version of a ball and chain around my neck and me standing at the edge of the ship being flung off into the sea, instead they were the toys in my safe and free backyard where anything was possible and I couldn’t fail enough to never be let back inside at the end of the day. 

What would change about how I approached these areas of meaning making?

Likely three core things … 

I’d risk much more with much less. 

I calculate risk. A lot. I feel a high degree of responsibility in every area of my life, which often exhibits itself as over-responsibility. (a topic for a whole other post in and of itself). But the truth is, I don’t make decisions flippantly. I mull and research and analyze, make the pro con list, run the numbers, talk to experts, check in with my intuition, and check the market. Basically, I drive myself crazy with the amount of input and analysis that I put into every decision. Because I desperately don’t want to get it wrong. I want my life to be safe and stable and successful, and one misstep and I’m worried that could all fall apart, so I take the approach of measure twice, cut once to the most extreme state possible. This has upside. It means I move with care and intention. That when I commit to something, it’s deliberate, for the right reasons, and for the long term. 

But there are also downsides. It can mean wasted time, paralysis, and frankly sucking the joy out of stepping boldly into new seasons that I know deep down are “right” long before the results of my analysis are in. 

If I allowed myself to play, I’d risk much more with much less. I’d listen to my inner voice that’s usually trying to scream the right next step to my logical mind and I’d just follow it into the next part of the journey and trust that my life isn’t going to completely fall apart by making this decision. Because time has taught me that I am both reliable and wise, and I’d trust that more. 

I wouldn’t settle for anything less than exuberant joy. 

So often I settle for fine. I pass on dessert, choose the blouse that’s on discount because I can’t bring myself to spend the extra money, go the shortest way home instead of the more scenic way, rush through a conversation that I’m really enjoying because I need to move to the next thing, and just generally settle for a life full of experiences that get to about 80% of the joy that I expect and desire. 

And then I find myself resentful. I lay down at the end of the day and kick myself for wasting these precious hours and not having the courage to just ask for what I want and give myself more time with the people and things I enjoy and to say a hard “no” to anything that doesn’t meet the audacious standard of exuberant joy. 

When I was little, I was over the top. I would wear dresses and hats and gloves and frilly socks and my best shoes. I’d spend hours making homemade cupcakes and sandwiches and set up the perfect tea party under the magnolia tree at my grandmother’s house. I would sit out there on a blanket basking in the sun and just enjoy imagining myself as a princess who was having the most perfect tea party in her garden. I didn’t skimp or rush through any part of it. I squeezed every drop of joy out of those moments. Not for any other reason than that it brought me immense joy. 

I wonder if I allowed myself to bring that attitude to my work projects or how I interacted with my dearest friends, how much more fulfilling my life would be. 

I’d keep after it. 

Remember building your first fort? Mine was kind of lame. It had a dirt floor and some flimsy sides made out of a tarp draped over a low hanging tree branch. When I was done with it, I was pretty dissatisfied. I remember going in that night after spending a lot of time building it and thinking about why it wasn’t making me as happy as I expected it would. 

If adult Abby were analyzing the situation, I’d probably conclude that making forts is a dumb waste of time and I’m a horrible fort maker. Clearly it’s not my strength, I failed, and should just move onto something else. 

But little Abby didn’t have all of those limiting beliefs swirling around her lizard brain yet. Instead she just imagined a picture of herself happy and having fun in her fort. What would it look like? What would be in it? How could she make it that way? And it all suddenly came to me. It needed a soft floor like an old quilt. It needed pillows so I had places to lounge and read and take naps when I got sleepy after lunch. It needed toys and a place for my little puppy to snuggle with me. The outside needed twinkle lights and flowers and a couple of chairs for visitors. 

When I got up the next morning, I spent the whole day improving my fort. And it turned out to be better than what I had dreamt of the night before. 

How many things have I walked away from in my adult life because I told myself I couldn’t after one try? How many times have I labeled myself not good enough or a failure because I didn’t perform to my own unrealistic standards on the first attempt? 

What if I gave myself more grace? More permission to play. More opportunities to create and build and be something new, someone else. More coloring and drawing outside the lines. More doing for the purpose of joy, not profitability. More trusting myself instead of letting fear run the show. More being proud of myself for doing, trying, and just putting color on the page. Not because it’s perfect, but because I made it. And that means it’s good.