You Are Not The Boxes You Check

by Abbi Ondocsin


Homework – check

Meeting – check

Paper – check

*Insert Resume Boosters Here* Check, check, check.


Checking boxes – an integral and monotonous part of my college career. If there was a box, I had definitely attempted to check it (and more than likely lost my head in the process.)

I was driven by it. Consumed by it. Defined by it.

In the midst of my job search, I sat across from an impeccably dressed woman as I nodded and smiled, laughed on cue, and settled into what felt like any other interview.

“So,” she said, “tell me about yourself.”

It was the same way any other interview started – I plastered on a smile and rattled off all the boxes I’d checked throughout college. The interviewer nodded politely, let me finish my (probably self-indulgent) spiel, and… chuckled?

I froze. Did she just laugh?

“Yes, that’s all great… but tell me about you”

I suddenly became very aware of my artificial smile. Did she even listen to me?

“I’ve read your resume - that’s why you’re here. But I want to know who you are. You know, what drives you? What gets you out of bed every morning?”

My cheeks hurt. My nails were dug so deep into my palms I couldn’t feel my hands. What should have been the easiest question I’d ever been presented with - a question with no wrong answer - made me feel like I’d been punched in the gut. (Or, to be more specific, like the last 10 seconds of the National Championship, but I digress.)

Why can’t you just tell her who you are?

It took 3 years and 1 sobering interview for me to realize that I was not the boxes I checked.

Ok, great, so my college career thus far is meaningless. Everything is fine. I spiraled into a dramatic internal monologue as I took the never-ending elevator ride down to another sterile lobby.

When I’d had time to decompress with fresh air and good coffee (the cure for everything), what I came to grips with was this:

Hard work is necessary. Competition is healthy. Resiliency is utterly important.

But checking boxes is a means to an end; some checks signify meaningful accomplishments and others signify merely getting through the day. Both types are important – but neither of them define you. So, what I’ll leave you with is this:

For each late-night study session, let there be a dozen more late-nights spent among great friends, solving the world’s problems (or at least consuming good wine).

For each missed assignment, let there be no missed birthday wishes because your planner was full of everything but your personal life.

For each tear you shed over your triple booked calendar, let there be someone who considers you a shoulder to cry on.

For each challenging class you face, let there be someone who challenges how you view the world - and makes your better for it.

For each victory you achieve, let there be a phone call to your mom and a moment of gratitude (seriously… call your mom).

Because THAT is who you are – a friend, a son, a daughter, a sum of the parts of the people you choose to surround yourself with. Strong? Yes. Compassionate? That too. Loved? Absolutely.

That test grade you made last week? Nope.   

So check the boxes. Push yourself. Celebrate your well-deserved success. And then put it all down and go do what makes you YOU.

You are not the boxes you check.

Abbi OndocsinComment