Jun 1, 2024
Cover Stories

Live a brave, bright life. Color outside the lines.

It’s high time to keep your kidhood coloring book recollections of trying to color inside thick black lines right where they belong, in the past, say countless mental health professionals nationwide.

Go ahead and color outside the lines. You are big girls and boys now. You don’t need permission. And you won’t be alone. People have been coloring outside the lines for centuries — from Plato to Emerson to Einstein to Picasso to many contemporaries.

The Emerson quote “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist” is a favorite of Pensacola psychotherapist Stacey C. Steele-Taylor, MSW/LCSW.

Emerson believed that for people to reach their highest potential, they must not comply with tradition, or someone else’s specific, conventional plan for their lives, said Steele-Taylor, owner of Redefine Your Story LLC and Redefining: Stories LLC.

“When I was in the fifth grade, I had to write a paper on this Emerson quote, and it stuck with me my entire life,” Steele-Taylor said. “It speaks to me, saying don’t go with the flow, be different, be your authentic self.”

Another favorite Steele-Taylor quote is from Dr. Seuss: “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

“It’s all about thriving by not conforming,” Steele-Taylor said. “Stepping outside of the expectations of others around you, whether that’s your age group, family, friends or co-workers, is about stepping outside the expectations of society on you. It’s about coloring outside the lines.”

In her professional life, this approach to living falls in line with a mindfully oriented behavioral therapy she uses, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

In part, ACT encourages taking positive actions and making positive choices in life.

“If we are living our lives without articulating and taking into consideration the sacred elements in our lives, what some call priorities or values, we are drifting in life,” Steele-Taylor said.

Embrace the idiom, color outside the lines

Redefine Your Story owner Stacey C. Steele-Taylor, “a post graduate researcher, psychotherapist and aspiring superhero,” offers ways to escape coloring-inside-the-lines syndrome.

Embrace imperfection: Try the new thing, the skill, the sport, the hobby or dancing classes! Don’t avoid things for fear of being imperfect or not as good as others.

Don’t be afraid to look silly: Play in the rain, chase the ice cream truck, lay in the grass, bay at the moon. Just stop worrying about what others think!

Rebel against hustle-culture: Be the one who prioritizes rest, balance and having fun in life. Make peace with being a bum and binging an entire series one weekend. Your body and mind need rest. Let other people run in circles, bragging about their busyness. Life isn’t meant to be a race.

Coloring outside the lines is about manifestation, turning an “idea” of how you want to live your life to “reality,” and achieving this has bona fide benefits, she said.

“In my research, every study shows that as we get older, we get happier because we recognize the value and fragility of time, and we shed expectations of others,” Steele-Taylor said.

“We say, ‘I don’t want to live my life according to how you say I must live.’ We become more genuine as we get older with each generation. We acknowledge that we have one life to live, and we want to thrive and no longer sacrifice what is sacred to us.”

Reaching this eye-opening point in life is extremely “liberating,” Steele-Taylor said.

Right on, said Marlee Bruno, owner of Mind Body & Soul Medical in Pensacola.

Bruno wears several hats as a life coach, a board-certified physician assistant with vast experience in aesthetic and medical procedures, an associate professor at Florida State University and the University of South Alabama.

“Owning a medical practice catered toward women has really shown me how afraid women, in particular, are to color outside the lines,” she said. “It’s almost as though, even into adulthood, they’re still worried that they’re going to get in trouble for going against the grain or getting a little messy.

“While humans are community creatures, it is clear that we all have very unique personalities and ideas,” Bruno said. “Those differences should be appreciated. As a mother of a 3- and 7-year-old, I try to nurture my children’s creativity and individual characteristics. I want to give them the freedom to do what they were born to do in the world.”

The feeling of having to fit inside the box often comes from deep childhood wounds of not being accepted or loved unless you thought and behaved a certain way, she said.

Experiencing the same fact-based findings as Steele-Taylor’s research, Bruno said, “After 10 years of working in emergency medicine and seeing lots of people at the end of their lives, I learned that those who colored outside the lines seemed to experience pure bliss at the end. Those who didn’t were often full of guilt and regret.”

Bruno added that while the majority of her coaching clients are powerful, successful female business owners, nearly all of them “feel they have to ask permission to think outside the box.”

Bruno’s approach is to teach these women that their brilliance comes from making choices that feel good.

“I encourage them to make choices based on fun, excitement, and love, rather than based on fear, guilt, and regret,” she said, “When we do so, we end up with a life built around those things. Decision-making should feel expansive, not restrictive.

“Intuition and creativity are a woman’s birthright,” Bruno stressed. “We already know what to do. That part is easy. The hard part is shedding the layers of who we were told we should be, but it is something we all must do.”

No, it’s not easy, Steele-Taylor added.

“It takes courage to swim upstream, to live a genuine life,” she said. “And do not be hard on yourself. Do not beat yourself up. The truth is we are humans and cannot always sustain without reminders.”

Laughing, Steele-Taylor said, “I am a huge proponent of sticky notes. I put them everywhere.”

One of her favorites: “You have permission to have fun today!”