By Paula Gillison
There is this dope show on Netflix called The Circle. It’s a social experiment where a bunch of folks interact via The Circle App and try to make friends, spark romance, and hopefully become an ultimate influencer controlling the game. The kicker is that that players can be whoever they want to be so while some are their crazy cool selves (shout out Shubham), others are swimming in the catfish pond (here’s looking at you Seaburn aka Rebecca).
Watching the show made me reflect on what I understood a circle to be. For years, the term “Circles Matter” had been floating around my faith group. The concept was that everyone needed circles and that the circles you are a part of have a deep and profound impact on your life. So if your circle is full of go-getters and entrepreneurs, you were likely to be one too. Or if your circle was all moms, you’d have a support system for your own parenting journey. Or worse, if you had no circle at all, you were doomed to be a straggler without connection or accountability.
At that time, it felt right and important. Circles did matter. The depression I was feeling, the loneliness that was overtaking my life, and the choices I had made after my son’s death; I needed a tight-knit group of people to keep me on track. And that’s exactly what I had. People who would check in on me, hold me accountable for my actions, and help me to stay within the safe space. My thoughts: What would my circle do? I’d call them for guidance about my decision making, and rely heavily on them for what my life should look like. I was taught to mimic the pattern, follow the principles, and I should be okay.
However, as my healing manifested into awareness and a deeper exploration into self-discovery was cultivated, I found my circle to be less empowering and more restricting. It wasn’t just a safeguard, it was a bubble and I was outgrowing it. Both fragile and timid, it required personal sacrifice to sustain. Here I was in this confinement where our thoughts, our patterns, and our actions were supposed to guide me but were often both repetitive and stagnant. The circle no longer solved for what I needed and was limited in its understanding of ideas outside of the group. So questioning felt like betrayal rather than introspection.
What I realized is that circles aren’t for growth. Where they will flex to allow more people in, they don’t expand to allow people to progress. They are for comfort and reliability. At the right times of your life, they may be a perfect covering or protection to allow you to self-care free from judgment but circles don’t allow you the freedom to branch out. You can only grow as the circle grows and you can only evolve as the circle evolves. Which means, if you begin to expand beyond your place and the rest of the circle has not, or if they are expanding and you need more time, the only way that can happen is for the circle to be broken.
So now, I’ve broken away from the circle. It was no easy journey. It came with arguments, tears, and lots of anger. It took me about a year to heal from the damage I had endured from trying to expand from what I was told my place was and then constantly being reeled in while I was attempting to soar. (I wish I could be so much more specific here but there are people I have no desire to hurt.) Which led to now. If not a circle, then what?
A tree. I know, a whole different metaphorical divaricate here. But when I really thought about it, what allows me to grow in any direction while giving me room to expand, a tree was the perfect parallel. A tree not only grows up and out but deep and wide. Then, it branches and it grows leaves and can provide shelter or can be fed off of. Unlike a circle, a tree cannot be destroyed easily.
Side Note: When I was a kid, a trusted prophet came to my church (I’m literally just remembering this now) and he said that God had planted me like a tree beside a wall. In order to see over it, I had to keep growing. I learned that I could never be stagnant and had to be fearless in my approach. If I wanted to see the bigger pictures in life, I would need to be unwavering like a tree and always willing to grow, to expand, and to branch off when needed.
Human connection and healthy relationships are necessary for personal growth and even survival. While independence empowers a person, encouragement illuminates them. That is to say, while you can do it on your own, don’t. (Need an example… Fall from Grace by Tyler Perry.) Though the circle was crippling, it taught me the value of accountability and influence. We all need someone who will keep it 100 and have our backs. Which is why a tree’s branches are the perfect way to bridge connections. You can explore directions without compromising or even investing your roots. Should that direction fail, cut the branch off but you won’t lose the whole tree and you can always grow again. When my circle popped, I barely had scraps. Like a balloon, it’s pieces felt useless and couldn’t be used to make anything new with. As a tree, I’ve always got seeds to plant.
Be intentional about who you connect with and why. Surround yourself with not only like-minded folks but people whose minds you ought to explore. Just because they are different or even opposite of you, that doesn’t make them your enemy. Nor are you superior because of your brand vs. theirs. I can promise you. you’ve got a lot to learn about yourself from stepping outside of your box aka circle and letting a flower bud from a branch.
As you begin to evaluate your shape, be it a circle, square, or triangle, I encourage you to check for the limits. There should be no limits. Then check for a door. If there is no out then you need to burn the sucka down. You may get some bruises but at least you’ll be alive. Lastly, take an evaluation of your relationships. Some people have gotta go, no denying that. They hold you back, they like the limits and will keep you in a bubble as long as they can. But others are invaluable seeds that you need to branch with. You’ll notice that those people were never really in the circle in the first place. They just have a little dew on their branches and you failed to notice everything else. (Please tell me these metaphors are doing it for you cause I can stay here all day!)
Finally, just like the members of The Circle on Netflix (binge it, it’s so good) you’ve got choices about who you want to be in life. Nobody decides that for you. You have to do the work to be your most authentic self and you have to discover who you are without other people’s input. If nobody had a say and nothing influenced the outcome, who would you be? Now plant the seed and grow.
Branch. Cultivate. Vegetate. Produce. Seed. Plant. Shade.
Work on yourself and then work with others.
PS: In writing this, I realized I was being so vague. Because I didn’t want to air dirty laundry, not my intention but I was going to speak my truth. This article was started in July of 2019. I held off finishing/ publishing it until I was 100% sure that I was healed from the trauma caused and ready to be genuine about my new direction. Friendships I had for over 10 years went the way of the balloon pieces when I left the circle. But I always knew I was meant to be without limits. As my tree roots deepened, I extended some branches. Some were reciprocated and are illuminations in my life to this very day. Others weathered off and died. That’s okay too. Those who know, know I love them and the others, well… I wish your growth.