What Are Your Labels?
How do you describe yourself? If someone asks you about yourself, what do you tell them?
We use labels to describe things because it is so much easier to give a label rather than describe or understand the intricacies. For that reason, labels are easy and convenient, but they are also limiting.
Labels Limit You Twice
First, they gloss over so much of the richness and uniqueness that makes you and others special. Calling someone a middle-aged project manager at a tech company may be accurate, but does it really tell you anything about the person?
The second way it is limiting – and most damaging – is when we buy into the label. We start to define ourselves and others by the label. We compare ourselves to those we’ve assigned the same label, and we begin to narrow down what we imagine is possible. This is truly the most dangerous part about labels – when we start to believe them, and they begin to limit us.
Where did our labels come from? Did we choose them for ourselves or did we accept them from someone else?
Often the labels we take on are beneficial, but others are limiting.
For example, I remember in elementary school my nickname was ‘Pee Wee.’ I liked the fact that I was popular enough to have a nickname, so I didn’t give it much thought. But it was limiting.
Today, I’m five foot ten inches tall. The average height for a man in the US is an inch shorter. That means I’m taller than average. I’m not short. I’m not a Pee Wee at all. But, because I accepted the label, ‘Pee Wee,’ when I was much younger, I’ve always considered myself to be small.
And the damaging part was that I always felt being small was not as good as being tall. I thought tall people were smarter and more successful.
A silly label I accepted from others, that didn’t even fit me!
We get to choose which labels we take on and whether they empower us or limit us.
The first step is to recognize you are using labels. To do that, describe yourself.
If you want a list of personality traits, check out this extensive list from MIT: http://ideonomy.mit.edu/essays/traits.html
As you go through the list, see which ones resonate. Do you have strong feelings towards some? If so, make a note as to what those feelings are.
After you’ve gone through the list, go back to those where you have feelings. Do you like being described with those words? Do you want to change your perception of yourself?
Reinforce Empowering Descriptions
The next step is to reinforce the descriptions of yourself you find empowering and minimize the limiting ones.
Try it out and see what you learn about yourself. Do you want to change some? Keep others?
Remember what you noted in the exercise and watch yourself the next time someone ask you to describe yourself. What do you tell them now?