Outside life’s lines

Originally published November 2009 in the Dickinson County News

Remember how hard you tried to follow those instructions to “stay inside the lines” when you sat down with those childhood coloring books?

It’s one of the first things we teach kids when they pick up a crayon: “Try to stay in the lines.”

Would it surprise you to learn that I was one of those kids who drew on extras to those coloring book pages?

A plain ordinary kangaroo got fun toys drawn into his pouch. Barbie got new hairdos. Smurfs (who were colored yellow and pink and purple and green) were given polka dot shirts and some of them even changed sexes as I drew on dresses. (Honestly, Smurfette needed some girlfriends, don’t you think?)

I understood the artistic benefits of staying inside the lines, but it was far more fun for me to draw outside them once in a while. My artistic defiance has somehow ended up being a lifelong journey.

As I got older, “staying in the lines” took on a different meaning.

There comes that time in high school when you realize boys make good friends too. There’s the day as an adolescent when you realize the every nonfiction book you read isn’t necessarily all truth. There’s the moment in college when you realize that who you are will not be determined by your career but by your convictions and your dreams.

I think today’s corporate America brainstorming terminology calls us to “think outside the box.” It’s among the latest buzz words to encourage people to come up with creative solutions to ordinary problems. I’ve heard some say that when you think outside the box, the box disappears.

You may have tried the strategy during a marketing seminar or when trying to create a unique birthday gift, but have you tried it in your life?

When was the last time you had lunch with someone in your parents’ (or your child’s) generation? The last time you played a game with a child and let them make up the rules? The last time you crawled out on a roof to watch the stars? The last time you stayed up late enough to see the sunrise?

Going outside the lines could be more literal too.

Sometimes, I’ll take a lunch break up north just to feel like I’ve crossed a border that day. I sometimes venture down a “Road Closed” gravel road just to see if the road really is closed ahead.

Sure, boundaries are important once in a while…when you’re driving for instance. But who is to say many of life’s boundaries don’t need to be questioned once in a while? Sometimes we’re so stuck inside the box that it’s hard to see out of it.

I dare you to draw your life outside the lines once in a while. Some of life’s greatest treasures are hiding there.

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – T.S. Elliot