A major aspect of growing up is looking for an identity. Where do we fit in? Our we a preppy, a jock, a goth, a nerd, or something else? We search for a group to belong to, a category to fit into. And then we make this category an identity, making ourselves into a caricature based on this one label.
The thing is, we never outgrow this search. As we get older, we are faced with different cliques. We choose a career, and decide what we want to “be.” Notice that people say “be” and not “do.” Are we a teacher, an engineer, a cashier, a doctor, or a stay-at-home parent? We create a large part of our identity around this new label, just as we did in high school.
And then there are even more labels. Do we get married? Have children? What kind of parent are we? Are we a crunchy parent or a follower of Ferber? What are our political views—are we a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or Socialist? We are constantly looking for new labels and new categories in which to fit ourselves.
And yet the label is not really who we are. It's a category. It's an effort to belong to a group, and to try and define ourselves, because we really don't know who we really are. We make more sense to ourselves and others, if we can define ourselves by a single word.
The problem is that labels are limiting. The really do lead us to perceive ourselves as a caricature of who we really are.
Here are some of the problems with labels:
1. They do not allow us to deviate from a certain set of characteristics/beliefs.
If we embrace a label, we often try to be all that the label entails. For someone who is of a certain political persuasion, this not leave room for the occasional view that deviates from this label. For someone who is a “crunchy parent,” this does not leave room for following practices that deviate from the set of rules that one must follow in order to be “crunchy.”
2. They keep us from seeing all of the possibilities open to us.
When we wear our career as a label, we do not open the door for change. What if we are unhappy with the notion of spending 30+ years working a the same place, doing the same thing? We will still stay there, seemingly trapped, because we can not imagine who we would be if were not doing this job, playing this role in life.
3. Labels limit our social contacts.
A Democrat can not get along with a Republican. A crunchy parent can not get along with someone who sleep trains. By seeing ourselves in terms of our labels, we also see other people in terms of theirs. And in doing so, we miss out on meeting people that we might enjoy spending time with. We are unable to see other people in their wholeness, or to see our common humanity.
4. Labels keep us from seeing who we truly are.
Just as labels keep us from seeing others in their wholeness, they also prevent us from understanding the truth about ourselves. If we did not have our labels we would still exist. And who would we be? The journey toward discovering that is one of the most exciting and most rewarding journies that we can take in life.
So shed the labels, like an out-of-style pair of jeans that you no longer need. Like can be so much more exciting, so much more rewarding, when we are able to see ourselves and everyone else as a part of a shared humanity, rather than as a piece of an arbitrary category.
For help is discovering who you truly are and moving beyond any labels that you hold, consider an individual e-mail, chat, or Skype session.
Remember, there is still time to sign up for the Simple Living Basics E-Course for as low as $10!