Ticking the boxes

Sometimes I think I might have made a great bureaucrat. I like politics and policy, and the shifts of tone, power, responsibility and attribution that can be achieved with the slightest alteration in word choice and syntax. I like the idea that a stack of white paper covered in lines of words and bullet points can, in fact, be sculpting society, culture; saying something about who we are as a people and what’s important to us.

But alas, I don’t like ticking boxes.

photo credit: AJC1 Feedback checklist via photopin (license)

I pretty much did that throughout my childhood. Going to uni was the ultimate in box ticking. After surviving a brief existential crisis during which I contemplated scampering away overseas to teach English, I dutifully went and got an Arts/Law double degree. Like every other upper middle class Canberran.

And so it is that since graduating, I’ve given up ticking the boxes and being boxed in.

Sometimes I feel the call, the security of the boxes, of the tried and tested, of social norms.

And sometimes I give in. (I have a MacBook. And an iPhone. I’ve been to Bali. I even dip, on occasion, into the realm of commercial TV. #sorrynotsorry).

But in general, my adult life has been about saying NO to ticking the boxes.

Instead, I’m beating the box and I’m boxing the ticks.


Can I take you on a detour?

One of the few TV shows I watch – and a rare series that has me chuckling out loud – is Jane the Virgin. It’s preposterous and over the top in every way possible and I love it.

I love the very blatant nods to Latino telenovelas.

I love the crime boss subplot.

I love Rogelio de la Vega, the most preposterous and over the top of them all.

Anyway, the heroine Jane is focused on planning out her life and ticking every box.

She’s determined to hold on to her virginity until she’s married, go to grad school, marry her nice guy/good cop boyfriend Michael. She’s determined not to end up like her mother, who had her when she was just 16 and has been pretty much drifting through life since then.

Jane’s well-laid plans go out the window when she’s accidentally inseminated with her employer’s sperm – by his sister, no less – and falls pregnant.

(I told you it was preposterous, and that’s not the half of it).

A large part of Season 1 is about Jane’s struggle to cling to her box-ticking approach to life and not be derailed by this bump in the road, in her belly.


Okay, so maybe when I say my box ticking ended after uni, that’s not the whole truth. You see, moving to Ecuador was box ticking of a different sort: I mean, I was ticking the Matthew 28 box.

But from the start it was a box I was reluctant to tick, and that I was totally unable to tick. I couldn’t convert anyone – and I really didn’t want to either.

All I wanted was to struggle with the people around me, laugh with the people around me, show them there is a God in heaven present on earth, who drives and guides my every step, who cares for the little and the big things in our lives. Whose heart is broken over how messed up this world is – but who has been rolling out His plan to fix things.

You can’t design a structured curriculum for that (though some of my colleagues attempted it).

Instead, what I did was this: I invested in relationships and activities, relying on intuition rather than any academic logic. I used reason after the fact, to back up what I was doing, demonstrate that it wasn’t random or callous.

Basically I used my gut to draw some stylish ticks and retrospectively I was able to put a box around those haphazard strokes and show why I did what I did, what it meant.

It’s funny how I used to talk a lot about how I’m overly rational and logical rather than emotional or romantic, because recently I have started to see how strong the N in my ENFJ personality type is.

For better or for worse, that’s how I work best. I like to understand the sense in a thing, but ultimately, I work backwards.

Isn’t that how geniuses operate?

photo credit: aestheticsofcrisis The earth without “art” is just “eh” via photopin (license)

One of the things I enjoyed about uni was how everything we read in articles and wrote in essays had the appearance of objectivity, but really the beauty of it was drawing from legit sources to present the subjective conclusion you wanted as rational and logical.

It was about assembling an array of ticks and then conveniently, selectively, boxing them. Such that it looked like you had ticked the boxes, when really you had just boxed the ticks.

Are you still following me?


If I’m being honest with myself, I’d interrogate my approach and ask whether this isn’t, more than anything else, about protecting my pride.

When you’re ticking the boxes, you surrender control – you can only choose whether you tick the box or not. You subject yourself to the immense pressure of not failing.

When I’m boxing ticks, I have control over where to put the ticks and then I get to box them up nice and pretty. I get to make sure they get boxed – no empty boxes, no boxless ticks.

I always win. I eliminate the possibility of failure.

This is simultaneously liberating and delusional. In a twisted way there is a sort of freedom in delusion.

It is, however, selfish, potentially dangerous and somewhat disconnected from actual needs.

I made a big decision this week. And as I suspected would be the case, I knew early on in my gut what I would choose – I just needed time to justify my choice.

And you?

If you’re reading this, I’m going to dare to ask you something personal.

Are you a box ticker?

And if you are, who’s created those boxes and why are you trying to tick them?

Or are you, like me, avoiding some boxes?

Why might that be? Are you in the habit of boxing your ticks instead? Could it be that you, like me, are a champion tickboxer?

Champion tickboxer, right here.

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