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4 Tactics For Becoming an Unconventional Tourist

The following is a guest post. My love of unconventional travel started when I was 12 years old. My dad had decided that, of all the ways to spend Christmas, we should go on a cycling tour around Cuba. And so we did it. We figured out how to...

I Hate Hair: Reasons Why Shaving Your Head Skyrockets Confidence

Welcome to #DifferentLifeStories, where Without Boxes is sharing how people are living differently right now in the real world. Enter Aron James: Hair loss is something that happens to our grandfathers. It is the sign of the wisdom that comes with old age; a rite of...

How to Be a Solo-Female Hiker: Put One Foot in Front of the Other

Welcome to #DifferentLifeStories, where Without Boxes shares how people are living differently right now in the real world. Enter Hayley Turner (a.k.a. Little Foot): I can still remember everything about that day, from waking up and walking 12 miles by noon, the dogs...

Do You Really “Find Yourself” When You Travel?

"I know this sounds cliché, but I have to ask—do you really 'find yourself' when you travel?" the girl asked me. Her young friend crouched next to my table, gently stroking the cats as they slept. Café Neko is a small coffee shop in Vienna that allows cats to wander...

When Not Everything Goes as Planned, It Still Goes: A Story About Finding Your Passion

Welcome to #DifferentLifeStories, where Without Boxes is sharing how people are living differently right now in the real world. Enter Jen: As a kid, I was told that I was lucky that I already knew what I wanted to do with my life. From age four, I knew I wanted to be...

The Digital Nomad’s Roadmap – A Complete Guide: Successfully Live, Work, and Travel Anywhere

So you wanna be a digital nomad. I’m not surprised: the future is bright for freelancers and location independent workers. Statistics show 40% of Americans will be contingent workers by 2020. That’s a lot of potential for digital nomads! Yet there’s no hands-on guide...

Limitations: Why the 9–5 Job Doesn’t Need To Stop You

Over the years I’ve had a number of conversations with people who talk about cool things they want to do, see, or make. A lot of these conversations end with “Well, I’d love to do it, but unfortunately I have XYZ,” and many times those XYZs are very valid limitations...

Stealing Second Base: From Side Gig to Self Employed Full Time

Welcome to #DifferentLifeStories, where Without Boxes is sharing how people are living differently right now in the real world. Enter Katherine Stimson: “You can’t steal second base with one foot still on first.” In the spring of 2010, a Facebook ad posted by a total...

Dreams Are Like Pirate Treasure: Hard to Find, But Worth the Risk

All dreams start somewhere and typically, no matter the size of the overall dream, most dreams start small. Let’s say yours is to feel better at work every day. You focus on sitting up straight in week one. Week two finds you taking a 10-minute walk at lunchtime. Week...

The Pirate Ninja’s Ultimate Weapon: A Box Cutter

“Pirate ninjas. Don’t you think that’s a bit cliché?”

“It’s not about cliché. It’s about the capturing the desire of our inner child,” I tried to explain.

Being a pirate ninja doesn’t mean you are physically sailing the ocean blue. Being a pirate ninja doesn’t mean you actually live in a hidden village. Being a pirate ninja is a frame of mind.

There’s two sides: The pirate, and the ninja.

We get our straight-forward thinking from the pirate side. We know our treasure, we draw up maps to find it, and we obsessively pursue it till we’re holding it in our hands.

We get our ridiculously awesome skills from the ninja side. We know that we have to be ready for any situation. So we train for anything that we may encounter: from second languages, to physical prowess, to miscellaneous skills that might come in handy one day (like learning Photoshop, how to code a website, write copy or engage a stranger in conversation).

It’s the combination of these sides that brings us to our most powerful component: Our ability to not just think, but actually live outside the box.

Which leads us to the ultimate question… what is our weapon of choice?

It’s a box cutter, of course.

The Simplicity of Box Cutters

“What if?” is a powerful phrase.

It’s unassuming. It’s short. It’s only 2 words. Yet, it slices through even the toughest of your preconceived ideas.

It reminds me of how something as small and unassuming as a box cutter can slice through that box you’re holding onto. A box cutter comes in a little package. It’s simple to use. Just place, and cut. Whatever was inside the box before is going to come out because of that tiny blade.

You are inside that box.

Every time you ask the question, “What if?” you are pointing that box cutter, and cutting. You’re getting yourself outside of your box.

It’s a simple formula.

What’s wrong with your life? What makes you unhappy?

Start asking yourself, “What if things were different?”

Keep asking the question until you’ve pared down the issue to something you can actually slice through.

What if you didn’t work at a job that made you hate yourself? What if you worked as a programmer instead? What if you learned to program? What if you Googled PHP tutorials and started learning right now?

What if you didn’t feel like every day was the same exact thing, in and out? What if you picked up a hobby you’ve been putting off forever? What if you started taking a class at your community college? What if you subscribed to an online blog on the topic? What if you started attending a meetup in your area?

You have to actually cut the box.

Asking “What if?” sets the blade. It creates opportunity. It prepares you to cut the box wide open.

…but then you have to actually cut the box.

You have to go and actually take that tutorial. You have to actually start learning about your hobby. You have to actually go do something.

When you start asking these questions, you may find yourself providing answers – often excuses about why the “What If” just isn’t possible.

The excuses you come up with with help you realize what it is you’re afraid of. Maybe you’re afraid of being too vulnerable. Maybe you’re afraid of wasting time on a skill you’ll never use. Maybe you’re afraid of making an idiot out of yourself. Maybe you think you’re not talented enough.

So, what if you’re too vulnerable? You’ll learn how to develop tougher skin. You’ll learn how to deal with failure in a healthy manner.

So, what if you’ll never use that skill again? By learning a new skill at all, your brain will stay sharper and be more open to learning any other skill. Your daily life will be less boring, which will make you happier, which will improve your entire lifestyle.

So, what if you make an idiot of yourself? You’ll learn how to laugh at yourself. You’ll learn how to make mistakes gracefully, pick yourself up and try again.

So, what if you’re not talented enough? You’ll become at least a little more skilled and well-rounded for trying. You’ll feel good that you worked on making yourself a better person.

(You’ll notice a pattern. We kept asking what if to face even our fears.)

Opening Up Your Box

Let’s assume you ask “What If?” until you have your box cutter aimed right where you want it.

You go ahead and take that tutorial. You go ahead and start learning about your new hobby. You begin cutting open the box by doing something, anything at all.

Little by little, light is going to start shining through the cracks. The darkness of your box is going to start getting replaced by light. Sometimes it will be overwhelming and you might want to stop cutting, stop asking “What If?” and retreat back into darkness.

But then, that’s not the life of a pirate ninja.

Practice makes perfect!

Sometimes you’re going to cut the wrong way, or maybe even hurt yourself by mistake.

The great thing is that our bodies and minds are truly incredible. We are able to overcome things that would ordinarily seem impossible.

The more that you ask “What If”, the better you’ll get at asking it. You’ll start to see patterns. You’ll begin to see the opportunities and chances life really offers you, instead of thinking that you were simply unlucky, unhappy and doomed to a miserable life.

Every time you ask “What If”, you are sharpening your skills and getting better at cutting boxes.

Breaking into the light.

After some amount of box cutting, you’ll suddenly find yourself with a limitless sky above your head.

You can stand up, breath in fresh air, and actually look around the sunlight outside of your box. It’s a beautiful feeling when you finally get out of that box.

It’s also overwhelming.

Once you’re in the light, once you can see what you want and chase after it, there’s no one there to guide your way. You are free and no one can tell you what to do. The good news is that the skills you learned while box cutting will let you guide yourself.

The skills you taught yourself by asking “What If?” will be even more important once you’re free. The bravery you gained by cutting open your box, letting in the light and taking control of your own boxed-in life will help you once you’ve made it out in the open.

You own the box cutter.

No one else is going to come along and cut open your box.

You’re the only one who can open your own box. We each have this box cutter, the ability to ask “What If?” in a way that matters to us. Yet, everyone has a different “What If?” and everyone has a different chance on the other side.

The results of my “What If?” can’t cut open your box, just like the results of your “What If?” can’t open mine.

I can hand you the box cutter, show you “What If?”, but it is up to you to use it.

If you do, you’ll discover that you’re trying things you’ve only ever dreamed of. You’ll begin journeys that could change your life. You’ll find that you’re becoming an expert in skills you’ve only wished you could learn. You’ll have open eyes and the idea of a boring life will be inconceivable.

Your adventure filled life outside is just a box cut away.

Destroying, Flattening & Repeating

You did it. You asked “What If?” until you successfully broke out of your box.

What comes next?

“What If?” is always filled with surprises. Our box cutter isn’t done being used yet. Every day, we can continue to ask “What If?” about our surroundings, our life and our world.

We can challenge the status quo by asking, “What if things were this other, better way?”

…and then doing something about it.

We can keep pointing our box cutter and cutting.

We can keep bringing down the boxes that we keep finding ourselves trapped in.

The thing is, in our lives, people keep trying to throw us into boxes. Maybe it’s your employee box, your career box, your friend box or your personality box. You have to actively tear apart each one, by challenging it with “What If?”

How do you find the next box?

This is really a matter of rinse and repeat. In order to understand what box you’re currently dealing with, you have to start asking yourself, “What’s making my life miserable? Why am I so unhappy?”

If you’re having trouble answering that, spend just one week journaling everything that made you upset, angry or sad each day.

By the end of the week you’ll see a clear pattern. Without even realizing it, you’ll start asking yourself… “Why do I always feel that way? What if things were different?”

Share your “What If”

I’m working on a whole section of the site where we’ll be sharing our own “What If” questions. 

Right now, I’m asking you to help us get started. Post your “What If” in the comments below.

You can be as specific as you want. “What if I weren’t scared of groups of people?” is a good general example. “What if I said hello to a stranger?” is a more specific example that addresses the same problem.

If you’re are willing to step out of your comfort zone, please also share why you’re scared of actually cutting with your box cutter. For our example: Saying hello to a stranger is scary. What if they hate you? What if they’re mean? What if you are annoying?

I’m hoping that as we share our own stories, fears, and hesitations we can see that we are not alone in this. We’re all facing these trials. Better still, we can help each other move past them as a crew.

What is holding you back from cutting the box? Or, if nothing is, why haven’t you done it already?

– Anne
Captain of the Pirate Ninjas 

Photos: Box Cutter Cat in Box Box Dump




  1. Avatar

    My name is Loren Wade and I freely admit, I need a box cutter.

    What if I was more productive on a regular basis?

  2. Avatar

    “What if you weren’t afraid of looking stupid?”
    “What if failure was no big deal?”
    “What if you just TOOK THE CHANCE and actually found out what happens when you leap, instead of pondering it all the time?”
    “What if you had all the money in the world to fund your adventures–what would you REALLY do then?”

    And one of my personal favourites:

    “What if you completely, totally, absolutely fail? Then what?”

    Because the answer to that one usually isn’t as terrifying as you’re imagining it to be, and once you realize that, all the other “What ifs” become more exciting and less frightening.

    For me, I think one of the biggest fears I’ve had–one that held me back for a long, long time–was the fear of damaging or losing the relationships I have with family and friends by changing the status quo and altering my role, my outlook, my behaviour.

    But then again, I’ve always existed outside of the norm, so it’s become a rather comfortable place for me. As you said, though, we always find ourselves shoved into new boxes, so we have to be vigilant with our box-cutting.

    A breakthrough for me was when I actually DID lose a relationship to–among other things–my change and growth as a person. And it wasn’t the end of the world. And I was OK. And I was like, “Well, alright, what’s next?”

    The worst-case scenario scares the hell out of us, but when we finally face it, it’s almost never as bad as we were afraid it was going to be. And the weird thing is that the sun comes up again the next day, bringing with us a whole new chance to try it out, fueled this time not only by desire, but by wisdom and refined tactics.

    So…what if you tried something crazy? 😉

  3. Avatar

    What if I were among the best entrepreneurs at raising money in the world?

  4. Avatar

    What if you tried one new food every week.

  5. Avatar

    What if I responded to a blog instead of just lurking around? I’m not very computer literate so I’ve never entered an opinion on line before. Hope it works! Hey, did I just use my box cutter?!?

    • Anne Dorko

      Love it 🙂

      Looks like you successfully shared yours here, though!! And YES, excellent use of your box cutter 😉


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