Do the Labels You’re Wearing Really Define You?


Do the Labels You’re Wearing Really Define You?

My love affair with Dymo several years ago resulted in a disproportionate number of labels throughout our home and office.

As a bit of a joke, I made some for myself and hubby took great pleasure in adding a few more. Our daughter was only three at the time and proudly walked around the house with her name stuck to her forehead, and I remember thinking how lucky she would be to grow up in a home where she was cherished for who she is, and not who we want her to be.

Fast forward to seven years later, and I’ve discovered that there are polarised views on labelling, particularly when it comes to children. As a parent who lives and breathes this stuff every day, I understand the fear that comes with obtaining a diagnosis for your child. The stigma and restrictions that comes with having your child categorised, and the concerns you have over their capacity to navigate life with the added burden of labels.

But the last three years have changed my views, and I’ve come to appreciate the value of a label. Human beings are creatures of habit, and our brains look for patterns and common information that allow them to process situations quickly. We create systems and routines that enable our brains to function efficiently. Life would be exhausting if we had to think about every single step of our day.

So, our brain takes clever shortcuts. It creates labels (whether we offer them or not), moves past that standard information, and spends its energy assessing the new or unique details.

For that reason, I’m OK with certain labels. I think it enables people to categorise me (or my daughter) and use that as the starting point for getting to know us well. It prevents a lot of heartache (for both parties), when expectations aren’t met, and in cases where people understand the labels, it ensures a safe and appropriate environment from the outset. Where the benefits of labelling come unstuck (see what I did there) is when people think we are the sum of our labels, and nothing more.

But we are so much more.

Our daughter may have ASD, ADHD and a Sensory Disorder, but she is also kind and creative. She has insight that’s lost on many adults, and a love for reading and learning. The labels help people to know where to start, but if that’s where they stop, they’ll miss out on understanding who she really is.

And that’s what I think we need to remember, not just when we’re dealing with other people’s labels, but when we’re managing our own.

“I’m a mother, wife, lawyer and writer, but that’s not all I am. And importantly, it’s not all I’ve ever been, nor all I’ll ever become.”

I wasn’t born a writer. That label came along later in life with a bunch of others that all make up a part of me. Some labels I had as a youth, no longer apply. And other labels, are still waiting for me a little further down the track.

Labels become dangerous when we think they limit who we are, and who we can be.

The purpose of the label is to identify the ingredients, not the other way around; so, if the contents change, the label must also. Identifiers are useful, but we aren’t a slave to them, and we owe them no loyalty. Rather than feeling locked in to how we’ve been categorised it’s important to remember that we have the ability to reclassify ourselves.

As we get older and experience more of life, we change. Our attitudes and opinions are altered, and even our core beliefs can shift. Why then, are we surprised to find that our labels are a bit outdated and in need of an overhaul? And what makes us think our business lives are immune from the changes going on personally?

Change is a natural part of life, and while some labels will be with us till the end, they are not all-defining. Add to them, tweak them, understand their value, but most importantly find in them the freedom to redefine yourself as often as you need.

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