Getting back to basics – what are the three boxes of life? It’s an idea from Richard Nelson Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute. He points out that the three big boxes most of us deal with are education, work, and retirement. Bolles proposes something that’s nothing short of revolutionary – why keep the boxes in the traditional order of school when we’re young, then work for most of our adult life, then retire in our “golden years?” Why not mix it up a little?
I’ve talked about the idea of changing things up and the objections I hear amount to one thing: fear of challenging the status quo. What does following the status quo give us? Don’t reject it out of hand: predictability, stability, and familiarity. Those things aren’t trifles, and they’re not to be sneezed at. In times of great stress, usually it’s one or more of those three things that are impacted that causes all the stress. Why would we want to bring that about ourselves?
Here’s why: when we do things out of order, such as work as youth, or go back to school in later years, or take a year or six months off as a sabbatical, it teaches us things about ourselves that we would learn in no other way. By challenging the patterns that have become routine, it engages parts of our brain that aren’t usually in use as we go through life on auto-pilot. While it can be scary, it can be exhilarating and allow us to see things in new ways.
We also have a myth that we’re supposed to be good at something before we even start it. I can’t tell you how many people argue with me when I suggest they go back to school to study something that interests them. “Oh, I’m no good at such-and-such.” Being good at something is what you aim to be after education, not before.
If we open our minds to the possibility of changing around the order of things, what might happen? We might go back to school after forty, or fifty, or seventy. We might take a sabbatical and go live somewhere rural to study sustainable farming. We might take a gap year before going to college, to give ourselves time to cool off after high school and get some needed life skills.