Remember the plastic, hollow ball-like toy with the different cutout shapes? Maybe you had one as a child. It came with several yellow blocks in a variety of shapes – cones, cubes, plus signs, stars – that you put through the correct cutout shape to get inside of the plastic ball. Once finished, you pulled the hollow shell apart to empty the pieces and start again.
While the obvious purpose of this toy is to teach children about shapes, like many childhood games, there is a deeper wisdom to be found beneath the surface. As the popular saying goes, “everything I need to know, I learned in kindergarten”, and the Tupperware Shape-o-toy as it is called, provides another great example:
Trying to force square pegs into round holes is not an effective strategy.
Yet, much of life is spent trying to do just this. We attempt to “force” things that just aren’t a great fit. We stay in jobs that do not fulfill us by convincing ourselves that it will get better or we have no choice. We endure relationships that are no longer a fit because we don’t want to be alone or believe it’s what we “should” do. We hang onto projects, habits or situations that are no longer serving us because we’re afraid to cut our losses or be viewed as a failure.
The list goes on. Despite the fact that we would never encourage our child to put the little oval piece into the square opening, we spend a good deal of our adult lives doing this. As expert rationalizers, we bloody our fingers trying to push the oval through the square hole because in our “logical” mind, we somehow have convinced ourselves of why we “should.”
The idea of “giving up” is not a popular one in American society. We are encouraged not to be quitters. Therefore, we have a tendency at times to continue to force things that are well past their prime.
But there is a middle ground between persistence and quitting. Wisdom lies in the balance of knowing when to persevere and when to try a different strategy. The idea of “cutting our losses” can be a difficult decision – even harder sometimes than pushing through – but it can also be the wise choice in many situations. Despite outside influences, naysayers and skeptics, only you know when the right time is to change direction. This is the only way to effectively find the square hole for the square peg.
So, what are you forcing in your life that is no longer serving you? What square pegs are you attempting to push through round holes because it would be hard to admit that things didn’t work out, stand up to your partner, or start over?