I still think about that chair.
I don’t remember much from that Philosophy 101 class my freshman year at college. I remember the musty, outdated lecture hall, with its mishmash of one-arm desks that looked like they were from the 1970s. I remember the cute boy who sat in front of me, who doodled swirls on his paper the entire lecture. (I don’t think he lasted the semester.) And I remember the chair.
The “chair” was the one part of a philosophical theory that broke through my freshman haze and made me think.
“Plato saw the world as divided into two realms: the material world of appearances, which is imperfect and ever-changing, and the world of ideas or “forms”, which is perfect, unchanging and eternal. Plato believed that everything in our material realm is only a copy of the perfect form of that thing/concept in the perfect realm.”
“According to Plato’s Theory of Forms, objects in this world are imitations or approximations of ideal Forms that are the true reality. A chair in this world is just an imitation or instantiation of the Form of Chair.”
Ok, so I’m obviously no philosopher. So this is not a commentary on the actual theory.
But the way I understood this at the time is that there is an ideal form of a chair that exists not in reality, but in our minds. The chair in front of us, in reality, is an imperfect version of the “ideal” form of what a chair is — because none of the chairs in reality are perfect. None of them perfectly represent the ideal form of a chair.
In reality, chairs have scrapes, and loose screws, and worn paint, and wobbly legs. Chairs are not ideal.
We have this vision of what we could be, should be; the perfect version of our lives that for some reason we cannot replicate in reality.
It’s a version of life that seems possible but that is elusive and hidden — that, perhaps, we could attain or recreate if only we worked harder, or longer, or changed, or hustled.
We craft these versions of what life should look like based on our own experiences, our own preconceived notions, our own ideas about what we should be or what should be available to us. And that can be seriously limiting.
As I contemplated this month’s theme of Boundaries, I thought not of the boundaries we place on our lives to protect them, but the boundaries that keep our lives locked down with a vision of what we believe they should be.
boundary: n. something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent | a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.
By having these ideal forms of our lives in our minds, we are unwittingly limiting our visions of what life could be, beyond those visions. We are trying to live up to something without looking beyond it, or outside of it, or around it.
An example: my friend (and MotherHustle panelist) Stacy Firth recently got purple highlights.
She looks awesome. I love it. She loves it. But when we first talked about it, she told me (and I’m paraphrasing):
“I really wanted to do it. But I had this idea in my head that purple hair just wasn’t ‘me.’ And the more I thought about it, the more I thought: why isn’t it me? Why can’t that be me?“
For a long time, I told myself that I was not a good public speaker (I am.) Or that I was afraid of amusement park rides (I now kind of like them). I told myself these things because they matched this vision that I had of myself. They fit within the boundaries of what, of who, I thought I was.
I’m sure you have your own purple-hair thing. Something that you think you’d love to do, but that just isn’t you. Something that doesn’t fit within the ideal vision or version of you in your mind.
The question is: is it a boundary that you want? Is the ideal version of yourself REALLY the ideal? Or is it a boundary, a limit, a box?
As we think about boundaries this month, I challenge you to not only think about the boundaries you need to add to your life, but also those that you already have in place — consciously or subconsciously. And to ask yourself:
Just like in Philosophy 101, I don’t have the answers. But I am intrigued by the question. And I don’t want to spend my life searching for the perfect chair when I’m already sitting on it.
She adores being mom to her two little ladies and drinking obscene amounts of coffee from mugs with pithy sayings. Find her on Instagram, and learn more about ways you can collaborate with MotherHustle.
Access our free Members-Only Portal + get exclusive stories delivered weekly