I’ve been thinking about labels as a result of conversations with some of my clients. We all use labels to describe ourselves and those around us – it’s a useful form of shorthand. But how helpful are our labels, and where do they come from?
It starts in childhood, especially if you have siblings. If you were labelled “the quiet one” or “the good one” or “the difficult one” that will inform how you see yourself, and how you will subsequently behave.
As you get older, your classmates will label you, and it will be very difficult for you to move away from that label while you know them. I remember one boy who was very short when we met in our first year at Senior School. He was noticeably smaller than the rest of the class and so there was inevitably a lot of teasing around his height. This went on for years until, one day, someone looked at him properly for the first time in years and realised that he was actually quite tall – and, as he pointed out when they expressed surprise, had been growing steadily for years!
What label do you give yourself? Do you define yourself by your job (I’m a teacher/lawyer/accountant/publisher)? Or by your association with another person (I’m a widower/divorcee/mother)? How helpful is that label in describing who you really are?
I know someone who uses a different label with everyone he meets, and his labels are based around the things he enjoys doing, and the emotions he’s feeling. So he might one day choose to introduce himself as “John Smith, and I like real ales” and the next day as “John Smith, and today I feel like having an adventure”.
Imagine giving yourself the freedom to celebrate all the exquisite facets of yourself like that – what kind of wonderful conversations might you prompt with the people you meet, and what kind of positive self-image might you build up for yourself?
So – lovely to meet you, I’m Cathy and I’m excited about what the future has in store. Tell me about yourself…