For over a year and a half, the local coffee shop I frequent had an empty black frame hanging on the wall. And for all of that time, I wondered what the owner, Mo, was thinking.

Was he being cheap? Lazy? Maybe he had walked past that frame so many times he simply didn’t see it anymore.

Then last week, I noticed something. The once empty frame now contained the words “Think Outside the Box.”

After a year and a half of hanging empty on the wall, an artist named Giovanni captured what Mo had wanted to portray with the empty frame all along: there is power in being able to see beyond what is readily apparent.

The phrase “think outside the box” means to consider things in a new and different way.

Everyone sees the world through their own frame, or box. Early on in life, people are given labels, told who they are and what is expected of them. They are ‘put in boxes.’ A teacher may label a student as gifted or slow. Parents see one child as the athlete, one as the smart kid, one as the comedian. Peers give the labels of stupid, ugly, dumb, fat, or loser.

But boxes, no matter how ornate or beautiful, are limiting.

Like frames that contains pictures, the boxes that people are in don’t allow for expansion or growth. If someone sees themselves as stupid, they won’t be able to realize their intelligence. They might not even try, because they believe that stupid is all they can be.

People who have a physical or mental illness can feel like they are limited. At times, this comes from others in their lives: spouses, parents, employers and even doctors. At times, it comes from themselves.

When I saw a picture-less frame, I assumed that it was there by accident or carelessness. I didn’t understand that Mo had placed it there for a reason. The empty frame’s purpose was to encourage the viewer to see things differently, to examine it with curiosity and wonder, to see its potential.

There are many things that are true limits in life, things that are absolute. Time is one example. Death is another. Absolute limits, though, are few.

Most of the limits we experience are limits that we place upon ourselves, or we allow others to place upon us. They simply aren’t true.

Boxes are no place for ideas, thoughts or people. Stretch, hope, and struggle your way out of whatever it is that is holding you back. Leave the boxes in the attic, the frames on the wall. That’s where they belong, anyway.