The importance of labeling yourself

Have you ever avoided identifying yourself with something because of the connotations it may carry?

The reason I ask is because just the other day I realized how much effort I was putting into not being something that I do all the time. Something that I really enjoy and have been consistently pursuing for a few years now.

And it’s not like the people associated with this activity are bad people. No, quite the contrary. They offer a thumbs up, and high fives. They push you to keep going. They seem to smile more.

So what’s the big deal? Commitment. Once I finally caved in to labeling myself, my approach changed.

I’m a runner. There I said it. If I call myself a runner, then damn it, I have to run. All the time. Otherwise I’m not a runner. I’m just some slob who enjoys the occasional jog.

We probably all do this in life. If you don’t think of yourself as something, then it isn’t so.

Sometimes there is no harm done (I’ll probably still run, even if I don’t consider myself a runner). Other times, harm is done. Convenient for you. Not so much for the people in your life.

I’m curious: have you ever avoided labeling yourself like I did with running? And once you did attach that label, did anything improve?

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17 comments

  1. Absolutely! Calling myself a writer was one of the most difficult things I ever did. I still cringe a little inside whenever I say it, but it gets better each time.

    1. I had the exact same experience as a writer. The more you say it, though, the more you believe. And with belief comes confidence.

    1. Even labeling yourself as “creative” carries huge responsibilities. Creative might be the primary label. But what are you creative at? Maybe those would be the secondary labels.

      And maybe I’m getting a little carried away with all this “labeling” nonsense. Ha!

  2. I never called myself an artist until this year… I always thought I couldn’t call myself an artists because I wasn’t a professional artist. I never made any money or had a job revolved around my artwork. It’s always just been my hobby & nothing more… until this year. And once I finally admitted to myself that I am an artist, something changed.. my confidence & motivation. Actually I sold a few paintings since then too. 🙂

    1. Very interesting! Just goes to show you that once you make the initial decision to be known as something, your outlook and approach changes thereafter. You have to wonder how much good, creative work is held back because somebody isn’t quite ready to take that step. Or how many awesome adventures you miss out on because you’re not an (ice climber, scuba diver, hiker, backpacker, etc.).

      So I say we might as well attach as many positive labels to ourselves while we still have a chance, right?

      Nice work selling your paintings!

  3. Interesting question. does the label make the person, or the person make the label? For years, I defined myself as a lacrosse player. I also let myself be defined by my work (which was a very bad idea).
    Now, I’m the guy who is the most willing to dive in headfirst where angels fear to tread.
    Having one thing be my label wouldnt be good.
    Being known as a guy who would call in sick at the first suggestion of climbing/skiing/surfing/diving/what have you is a much better explanation of me, even if it’s not a label.
    So what would my label be? Fringe Lunatic? I can live with that…

    1. Does the label make the person, or the person make the label? I think it’s a little bit of both. I like your approach. Instead of saying “I’m this, not that” you say “I’m this, and all that.”

      Perhaps your main label would be “Fringe Lunatic” and your secondary labels would be climber, skier, surfer, diver, etc. Eh?

      I guess my point was that if you continually avoid the label, you’ll continually avoid the commitment (in theory, at least). So what I’m trying to do is look at all the positives things I do in life, and associate myself with them (running, snowboarding, traveling, etc.). I hope to become a more committed—and better—runner, snowboarder, traveler, etc.

      But I dig what you’re saying. You can be all that and more with only one major label. So, uh, you wanna go climb/ski/surf/or dive later? I’m down.

  4. Labeling yourself is difficult. I know for me, I felt if I did I couldn’t be all the wonderful other things I am. But the beauty about us as human beings, we can be whomever we want to be :). This is such a wonderful post.

    1. Do you think it’s OK to attach numerous labels to yourself? Or is that just an invitation for chaos? It seems like you take a “just be” approach, which is pretty cool.

      I attach labels to myself when I want to step it up a notch. It’s exactly what jaxart4animals and Julie did above. If I avoid calling myself something, then I can conveniently avoid the commitment associated with that something.

  5. Great post! It really made me think, as your posts usually do. Thanks for that!

    For me that label was ‘cyclist’, and I still won’t accept the label for exactly the reasons you stated…because I don’t want to make that commitment, because maybe if I do cycling stops being a fun thing and becomes something I now HAVE to do.

    1. You know, I didn’t think of it like that. What happens when you commit to the label, and you stop having fun? In your case, it’s almost like the label would become a job or a chore.

      It sounds like you don’t even need the extra motivation to get out on your bike because you’re still having fun.

      Where do you usually ride? Cycling is huge here along the coast in San Diego. I’ve been thinking about getting into it, but I’m not sure if the world would appreciate me in spandex.

  6. I used to refuse the label of haberdasher, but ever since I started making and repairing hats I relish in the title. Also otorhinolaryngologist, it takes a lot of chutzpah to openly confess your true passion for sinuses.

    1. Funny, I always pictured you more as a podiatrists, considering your undying love for all things feet. The things you learn about people.

  7. Oh yeah, how many pairs of Spandex running shorts do you own? Do you run in place when you come to a crosswalk and there is traffic obstructing your path? Do you discuss the pros and cons of differing running apparel with middle aged housewives? Do you strap your ipad to your thigh while running? Do you ever stop mid-run for a beer and a shot? I know you used to be able to outrun your average middle American cops with no effort at all, can you still keep pace with those California beach cops? There are many questions that I need answers for. This whole running thing is quite foreign to me, but not in the sexy exotic kind of way.

    1. I don’t wear spandex running shorts. Or pants. In fact, I run in the nude. They say freedom is not free, but I say screw ’em. Running butt ass naked costs me nothing, and hundreds of admirers routinely stop to cheer me on.

      I don’t stop for a mid-run beer or shot. I just keep going, dude. No need to stall my progress. I average about six shots of tequila and nine beers per run, no matter the distance.

      There are no cops in California. This is why we are the best state ever.

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