“What if?” is a powerful phrase.
It’s unassuming. It’s short. It’s only 2 words. Yet, it slices through even the toughest of your preconceived ideas.
It reminds me of how something as small and unassuming as a box cutter can slice through that box you’re holding onto. A box cutter comes in a little package. It’s simple to use. Just place, and cut. Whatever was inside the box before is going to come out because of that tiny blade.
Every time you ask the question, “What if?” you are pointing that box cutter, and cutting. You’re getting yourself outside of your box.
It’s a simple formula.
What’s wrong with your life? What makes you unhappy?
Start asking yourself, “What if things were different?”
Keep asking the question until you’ve pared down the issue to something you can actually slice through.
What if you didn’t work at a job that made you hate yourself? What if you worked as a programmer instead? What if you learned to program? What if you Googled PHP tutorials and started learning right now?
What if you didn’t feel like every day was the same exact thing, in and out? What if you picked up a hobby you’ve been putting off forever? What if you started taking a class at your community college? What if you subscribed to an online blog on the topic? What if you started attending a meetup in your area?
Asking “What if?” sets the blade. It creates opportunity. It prepares you to cut the box wide open.
…but then you have to actually cut the box.
You have to go and actually take that tutorial. You have to actually start learning about your hobby. You have to actually go do something.
When you start asking these questions, you may find yourself providing answers – often excuses about why the “What If” just isn’t possible.
The excuses you come up with with help you realize what it is you’re afraid of. Maybe you’re afraid of being too vulnerable. Maybe you’re afraid of wasting time on a skill you’ll never use. Maybe you’re afraid of making an idiot out of yourself. Maybe you think you’re not talented enough.
So, what if you’re too vulnerable? You’ll learn how to develop tougher skin. You’ll learn how to deal with failure in a healthy manner.
So, what if you’ll never use that skill again? By learning a new skill at all, your brain will stay sharper and be more open to learning any other skill. Your daily life will be less boring, which will make you happier, which will improve your entire lifestyle.
So, what if you make an idiot of yourself? You’ll learn how to laugh at yourself. You’ll learn how to make mistakes gracefully, pick yourself up and try again.
So, what if you’re not talented enough? You’ll become at least a little more skilled and well-rounded for trying. You’ll feel good that you worked on making yourself a better person.
(You’ll notice a pattern. We kept asking what if to face even our fears.)
Let’s assume you ask “What If?” until you have your box cutter aimed right where you want it.
You go ahead and take that tutorial. You go ahead and start learning about your new hobby. You begin cutting open the box by doing something, anything at all.
Little by little, light is going to start shining through the cracks. The darkness of your box is going to start getting replaced by light. Sometimes it will be overwhelming and you might want to stop cutting, stop asking “What If?” and retreat back into darkness.
But then, that’s not a life of intention.
Sometimes you’re going to cut the wrong way, or maybe even hurt yourself by mistake.
The great thing is that our bodies and minds are truly incredible. We are able to overcome things that would ordinarily seem impossible.
The more that you ask “What If”, the better you’ll get at asking it. You’ll start to see patterns. You’ll begin to see the opportunities and chances life really offers you, instead of thinking that you were simply unlucky, unhappy and doomed to a miserable life.
Every time you ask “What If”, you are sharpening your skills and getting better at cutting boxes.
After some amount of box cutting, you’ll suddenly find yourself with a limitless sky above your head.
You can stand up, breath in fresh air, and actually look around the sunlight outside of your box. It’s a beautiful feeling when you finally get out of that box.
It’s also overwhelming.
Once you’re in the light, once you can see what you want and chase after it, there’s no one there to guide your way. You are free and no one can tell you what to do. The good news is that the skills you learned while box cutting will let you guide yourself.
The skills you taught yourself by asking “What If?” will be even more important once you’re free. The bravery you gained by cutting open your box, letting in the light and taking control of your own boxed-in life will help you once you’ve made it out in the open.
No one else is going to come along and cut open your box.
You’re the only one who can open your own box. We each have this box cutter, the ability to ask “What If?” in a way that matters to us. Yet, everyone has a different “What If?” and everyone has a different chance on the other side.
The results of my “What If?” can’t cut open your box, just like the results of your “What If?” can’t open mine.
I can hand you the box cutter, show you “What If?”, but it is up to you to use it.
If you do, you’ll discover that you’re trying things you’ve only ever dreamed of. You’ll begin journeys that could change your life. You’ll find that you’re becoming an expert in skills you’ve only wished you could learn. You’ll have open eyes and the idea of a boring life will be inconceivable.
Your adventure filled life outside is just a box cut away.
You did it. You asked “What If?” until you successfully broke out of your box.
What comes next?
“What If?” is always filled with surprises. Our box cutter isn’t done being used yet. Every day, we can continue to ask “What If?” about our surroundings, our life and our world.
We can challenge the status quo by asking, “What if things were this other, better way?”
…and then doing something about it.
We can keep pointing our box cutter and cutting.
We can keep bringing down the boxes that we keep finding ourselves trapped in.
The thing is, in our lives, people keep trying to throw us into boxes. Maybe it’s your employee box, your career box, your friend box or your personality box. You have to actively tear apart each one, by challenging it with “What If?”
This is really a matter of rinse and repeat. In order to understand what box you’re currently dealing with, you have to start asking yourself, “What’s making my life miserable? Why am I so unhappy?”
If you’re having trouble answering that, spend just one week journaling everything that made you upset, angry or sad each day.
By the end of the week you’ll see a clear pattern. Without even realizing it, you’ll start asking yourself… “Why do I always feel that way? What if things were different?”
You can be as specific as you want. “What if I weren’t scared of groups of people?” is a good general example. “What if I said hello to a stranger?” is a more specific example that addresses the same problem.
If you’re are willing to step out of your comfort zone, please also share why you’re scared of actually cutting with your box cutter. For our example: Saying hello to a stranger is scary. What if they hate you? What if they’re mean? What if you are annoying?
I’m hoping that as we share our own stories, fears, and hesitations we can see that we are not alone in this. We’re all facing these trials. Better still, we can help each other move past them as a crew.
What is holding you back from cutting the box? Or, if you really think nothing is, why haven’t you done it already?