It is fascinating to reflect on what we remember from our childhood. Out of the vast universe of potential memories and recollections, why do the select few imprint themselves upon us?
Something that left a lasting mark on me was my answer to a silly question.
I was in seventh grade. Someone (I forget who) was asking me and a boy – a boy I had a loyal crush on for the entirety of middle school – a series of questions. The questions were like an ancient, analog version of some sort of Buzzfeed pop psychology quiz. After we’d publicly responded to each one, it turned out (surprise!) that our answers were meant to reveal important things about ourselves.
I can now remember only two of the questions. One was to imagine that you are alone in a dark room, with no windows and no light; how do you feel? How we said we felt was supposed to indicate our feelings about death. As someone who had been afraid of death and dying for as long as I could remember, I was deeply skeptical of the implications of my own response, which was something about feeling calm.
But the question in question was a prompt to “think of a building or structure” and name the first thing that came to mind. My crush said, “The White House.” I said, “A mailbox.” We were told that our answers indicated the size of our ego. I think the boy and I both blushed – him in embarrassed annoyance, me in embarrassed humiliation. Yes, I was secretly relieved I hadn’t thought up anything as oversized as the White House. But a mailbox?
“A mailbox on a post,” I clarified, unhelpfully.
Friends would continue to tease me for long after about how I needed to work on building up my mailbox into a post office, at the very least.
Becoming a coach requires deep, on-going excavation of your own stubborn stories, beliefs, metaphors, and self-evident truths – so that you can fully serve your clients and help them do the same. Despite a lifelong proclivity for self-reflection (and rumination), I had never examined and overturned as many “truths” about myself as I did in the first month of my coaching certification program. One of them was this: that I will always have an innate “mailbox” nature in need of building up.
It sounds ridiculous, but the mailbox from seventh grade somehow managed to shape my entire sense of self.
Only as a coach did I begin to consider that I might be lucky to have a mailbox-sized ego, one I seldom have to worry about as I listen, learn, and grow as a human being. Maybe it’s exactly the right size for me. And it was another coach who helped me see what a beautiful symbol the mailbox could be: a place for sending, delivering, exchanging, and safekeeping communication and outreach.*
We are often told that sometimes all we need to do to move forward is to let go of who we once were. But sometimes the gift might just be in embracing it.
A proud mailbox that has stood tall all these years
P.S. Maybe in another few decades, I’ll be ready to declare that the whole quiz was meaningless after all.
*No junk mail, please.