Not long ago, I was standing in the back yard watching my boys play. I was walking around the perimeter of the yard, examining the aging wood privacy fence, looking at the missing nails and cracks that needed to be repaired. I came upon a board with a knothole in it, and tapped it with my finger. The center of it was loose, so I tapped it again, this time a little harder, and the knot popped right out into my hand, leaving behind a perfect little peephole. I couldn’t resist the urge to look through it, so I stood on my tippy toes and stretched my neck up as far as I could. But it was too high, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t even catch a glimpse of the view through the hole.
I don’t know why, but I just had to see through that hole. So I slid my cell phone out of my pocket, raised it up to the peephole and blindly snapped a photo.
I was surprised by how beautiful the sunset was on the other side of the fence. Directly above me was nothing but steel gray clouds, lovely in their own right, but nothing particularly special. But beyond the boundary of the fence was the real beauty, the vivid purples and pinks, the stark silhouette of the trees against the fiery orange along the horizon and the last gleam of light as the day drew to a close. And to think, had I not looked beyond the fence, I would have missed that whole gorgeous display.
I have spent much of my life building fences, not physically, but emotionally. In part, it’s because I’m so afraid of what people will think of the real me, but it’s also out of fear that I won’t be successful in the world outside of the fence. I put up these boundaries because I can control what people see, I can control how much emotion I show, how much I open up to them and how intimately they get to know me. I can also control what I attempt to do. I know the things I am good at, I work at something until I perfect it once, and then I fence it in, just in case my next attempt wouldn’t turn out so well.
I’m afraid by doing so, I have missed the potential beauty of my life up to this point. Maybe shutting myself off has cost me meaningful, lifelong friendships. Perhaps being afraid to step out of my comfortable boundaries has kept me from becoming what I was supposed to be. What if I’ve protected myself for so long, that I’ve completely missed out on the best things life had to offer?
I could get swallowed up by the “what ifs”. And there are moments when I do allow them to eat me up inside. But allowing them to consume me is just wasting more time. I am 33 years old. Life isn’t over. And it’s not too late for me to just be getting started. I can take this realization and start really living, letting myself be me and working toward the dreams I fenced in years ago.
And I know I’m not the only one who has fenced myself in. I’ve seen so many others in my position, some who haven’t even let themselves notice the fence they’ve built around themselves. I know the loneliness and disappointment inside that fence, and, whether you’re 33 or 73, it’s time to leave it behind.
Forget the knothole, I’m ready to kick out a whole board and squeeze right through the fence. You do the same, and I’ll meet you on the outside.