Boxes are for moving, not for people

Ioana Finichiu

I never really fit into a “box”. You know which boxes I’m talking about – the categories we like to assign to people so they line up with our ideals of order and predictability. Sure, I fit into a few of the big ones: human, check; female, check; Caucasian, check. Beyond those, it gets more complicated.

Even as a kid, I liked doing things differently and I liked doing different things. In high school, much to the chagrin of various cliques, I never picked a side – why should I have to when I could be friends with everyone, mosey from group to group and learn from everybody? This has never really been a problem (1) – I have always had a strong sense of self and was never bullied for my apparent refusal to conform.

I owe this to my parents, who never gave my siblings or me any indication that we couldn’t do whatever we set our minds to. This was my home. We had rules about right and wrong and a strong sense of ethics; beyond that, we were encouraged to explore and make up our own mind about the world and everything in it. I am incredibly thankful for my upbringing, for having a home where acceptance was the standard, where curiosity was nurtured, where debate was encouraged, and where learning was seen as a lifelong pursuit.

Inevitably, I leveled up to an adult in the workforce. More neat boxes, which you’re really supposed to fit into by now because you’ve outgrown your quirks, right? I tried reigning in my wildly curious and always questioning mind but it quickly got the better of me (spoiler alert, you can’t effectively stifle your true self. Nor should you try too hard). This is true as much in my work life as in my life outside of work (2). My goals, dreams, and aspirations are unlike most – I stopped trying to convince folks I’m not in competition with them; we simply don’t want the same thing and that is perfectly ok. This is difficult for a lot of people to accept. So I am used to getting the look (3); I oscillate between shrugging it off, being mildly amused, being mildly annoyed, and (sometimes) doubting myself. But the second I go home and feel the calming wave of unconditional acceptance, doubts and fears wash away like meaningless debris.

I have also been lucky in finding peers and leaders who accept and encourage being different, who let me explore and try things, and have my back when they don’t work out. People who see the benefit of having someone on the team who cannot conform, who always questions, not for the sake of challenging but to seek better understanding and better outcomes. In their own way, they embody some of the familiar, uplifting traits that remind me of home.

A few weeks ago I attended an amazing one-day event, OneTeamGov Global. This was an unconference that brought together public sector reformers from across the world. Each of the hundreds of participants experienced it in a different way and luckily many, many of them are sharing their experience (4).

Naturally, when I came back from the trip, the inevitable question came: so, how was it? I found myself unable to articulate an answer that would truly describe how I experienced it. I recounted bits and pieces, self-contained interactions, logistical details – because some sort of answer was needed. I apologized for offering such sparse details and explained I was still trying to unpack it, make sense of it all. I burst into tears multiple times while reading accounts of the day from Nour, Morgan, and Sharon – thinking YES!!! That’s exactly it, that’s exactly how I felt! I also felt guilty for not being able to get my thoughts and feelings sorted out quickly enough to share with the rest of the world. I still get overwhelmed when I really immerse myself in the memories and let the feelings wash over me. But I finally figured it out. I can finally put in words what July 16 was like for me.

Going to OneTeamGov Global was like going home.

Home, where acceptance is the standard, where curiosity is nurtured, where debate is encouraged, and where learning is seen as a lifelong pursuit.

Your experience of home may not be the same as mine – but I sure hope you have a space in your life that means the same thing to you. Where acceptance is the standard, where curiosity is nurtured, where debate is encouraged, and where learning is seen as a lifelong pursuit. Where judgements are suspended and we instinctively welcome our differences and our similarities. Where peers and leaders have our back, where it’s ok to want different things, where you don’t have to conform if you can’t, where you can bring your true self and are appreciated for it.

I felt we were all linked by one thing at #OneTeamGovGlobal: a desire, or at least a curiosity, to work better, do better, be better. That is powerful and shouldn’t be underestimated. Through #OneTeamGov or other means, find the place that evokes this desire and curiosity in you, pursue it relentlessly, and use it liberally. Find your home.

  1. At least in my opinion
  2. My two favourite forms of exercise are dancing and powerlifting. I’m a powerlifting dancer. Couldn’t have just stuck to running or something more mainstream.
  3. As if I spontaneously sprouted an extra head
  4. The remarkable, ever-growing collection of posts: