Labels. They help us move through life in a comfortable, easy way. When it comes to people, they can be harmful. They become excuses for our actions. They compel us to be a certain way. They hold us back from reaching our full potential. Our labels prevent growth and kill curiosity.
I labeled myself: competitive, scrappy, aggressive, strong, a real GSDer (get S#*& doner). I hustled, performed, and achieved my way through life. I couldn’t sit still or rest…that would be a waste of time! I invested more in my bank account than my relationships. Couldn’t lose a game without getting upset. Totally forgot how to have fun. My labels were causing me to suffer, and had gotten in the way of living a full life.
I labeled others: lazy, selfish, arrogant, weak, real losers who just didn’t get it. I wrote them off, refused to cooperate, and wouldn’t listen to their side. I found “my people” and we took up our “us against them” mentality. I pushed people out. Spent my energy finding proof they were wrong vs. seeking common ground. My labels had blinded me to other’s humanity.
We are most comfortable living our lives in black and white, right and wrong. This way of thinking is detrimental to our ability to grow and it’s detrimental to our society. Life is more complicated than clean lines and perfect boxes.
Who I was 10 years ago is nothing close to who I am today. I value and know different things. My identity and my personality have changed significantly. The labels people used for me 10 years go are not the same they would use for me now. I could’ve gotten stuck there.
The sad fact is many of us get stuck. We never achieve our full potential. We closer ourselves off. Get caught in a fixed mindset. We are so afraid of keeping status quo that we miss out on the beauty of what could be. “Oh, that’s just the way he is.” “She’s just stuck in her ways.” “He’s too old to change.”
You don’t have to stay stuck. Please don’t stay stuck. You can break the cycle. Drop the labels you’ve put on yourself. Throw away the labels others have put on you. Don’t let them hold you back. Look forward to who you want to be and what you want to do. You can make it happen. Be free to be!
As you let go of your labels, catch yourself labeling others. Ask questions. Stay curious. Seek to understand. Find commonality. People make mistakes. People are complicated. Don’t let someone’s actions dictate their label. My first year as a leader someone called me an aggressive b*%$# in a review. That label rocked me. My actions clearly were not matching my intention. It was a big learning moment for me.
My team could’ve written me off and forced me out. I could’ve leaned into that label, continuing on the way I had been. I could’ve let my ego get the best of me, gotten upset, and tried to figure out who said it and make them pay. I chose to swallow my pride, apologize to my team, and seek to understand what I could do differently. I was grateful my team gave me a shot at redemption, and was lucky to have support.
Many in our society are not so lucky. We label them addicts, losers, criminals. We shove them into corners, jail cells, and ghettos. Those labels get in their psyche and without support they start to believe their labels are actually who they are. They fulfill the destiny we create for them with our words and actions. We need change.
Show grace and mercy. Lead with love and compassion. Stay curious and seek to understand. Help others see choices, new ways of being. Let us see humanity and walk alongside our brothers and sisters.
Drop the label. See the human. It starts with you.