“Well, YOU are obviously a CrossFitter!”, says one of the instructors at a kettlebell workshop. I am as taken aback by the certainty of the label as I am by my own strong visceral reaction to it.
“You are now an ultra runner!”, a woman exclaims, hanging a medal around my neck, as I cross the finish line of my first ultra. “Let’s not go this far”, I mumble. I just ran an ultra.
Also… I’ve never resonated with the word “cute”. I never felt cute. I can’t begin to imagine what “cute” feels like. There are many other words that make more sense to me – “attractive”, “beautiful”, “hot”, “drop dead gorgeous”. Interestingly, there are all significantly more aggressive than “cute”, and more… certain.
CrossFitter, ultra runner, cute. Those are labels. And labels are ours for the taking. So, take the ones that serve you, and push away the rest.
Consider the label “athlete”.
I remember one of my clients expressed a wish to “get back to her inner athlete”. Athlete was a label that she identified with, and longed for. I started calling her “one of my athletes”. She blossomed.
I remember first using the label of “athlete” with myself. Having a “coach” made all the difference. After all, who has coaches, if not athletes? Adopting that label MADE me into an athlete I am today. It motivated me, it pushed me. It made me stronger.
Another client does not want to be an “athlete”. She is just a “regular person”, she says. For her, “athlete” means competition, means performance anxiety, means peer pressure. Never mind that label. Let’s pick another one.
Are YOU an athlete? Why? Why not? What makes you an athlete?
Thinking of yourself in this way, do you feel power and energy? Or do you feel pressure and anxiety? [Notice how the response to the label is instantaneous, it’s in your stomach, in your bones. It either fits or not, and you know. Right away.]
You can run through the full gamut of labels that have been applied to you. That you have applied to yourself. Give those labels a gut check. And then reject the ones that do not stick.
Some would say “why label at all?”. Away with labels! We are all the same. “If you prick us, do we not bleed”, and all that. Human is human is human (which in itself, of course, is a label).
Not only “we are all the same” is a useless platitude, but sorting, classifying, and yes, labelling is one of the main characteristics of the human brain. Others will label you, and you will label you. And if all else fails, I will label you. You are welcome.
In a recent conversation a fellow coach claimed that he did not believe in labels, and did not use them. But.. how do you communicate with fellow human beings, I thought to myself. After all, what is language, if not a commonly agreed upon set of labels?
Another coach was taken aback by a client who referred to herself as a bulimic. The coach pushed, the client pushed back.
“But, how is this a helpful label for her?”, the coach lamented.
Whether a label is helpful or not for OTHERS, is not for us to decide. It is THEIR label.
Ever had the most annoying of conversations?
“What’s your name?” “Kate.” “Katie!” “Ummm… No. KATE”.
If you ask me my name, and I say it is “Kate”, it’s not for you to decide whether “Katie” fits me better. And if tomorrow I decide that “Arnold” or “Snowflake” is a better name for me, then I hope you will respect that as well. I will do the same for you.
Fat. Slut. Alcoholic.
Those are labels. Identifying with one of these is not in itself a dysfunction.
Identifying as an alcoholic for someone may be the only way they see themselves as part of a community. Part of a group. Identifying as a bulimic is part of someone’s story, someone’s narrative.
Don’t we want to separate the person from their characteristics, their diagnoses or their behaviors? Sure.
I may not want to refer to someone with Asperger’s Syndrome as an “Aspie”, however, I will respect their right and desire to self-identify as such. I may even use that label in a conversation with them, referring to them, as a sign of respect and acknowledgement.
A friend will say: “I run. But I am not a runner”. “Of course, you are a runner!”, I’d shoot back. All it takes to be a runner is running, right? Wrong.
It takes self-identification as a runner to be a runner.
To suggest otherwise, it’s like telling a toddler who is saying he hates you: “Aww… No, you don’t, honey.”. Oh yes, he does. In that moment, he truly hates you. And with good reason, as you seem to be completely disrespectful of his feelings.
Who are you? Answer that question ten times. Or twenty.
Daughter. Friend. Sister. Coach.
Many of the labels we give ourselves, we identify with, feel natural, comfy – like an old towel.
What if I were ask your friends and family? Who are you? Runner. Weight lifter. Pain in the ass.
Hmm… Do any labels feel awkward? Scratchy, itchy, annoying? [Reflecting on why certain labels irk us more than others is in itself an incredibly worthwhile exercise. Did someone call you a “big girl”? Did that send you into a deep spiral of despair? How come?]
Just because someone SEES you a certain way, LABELS you a certain way, does not mean you have to accept that label. Push back if you have to.
“Yes, I do CrossFit. I do not identify as a CrossFitter”.
Labels are part of human experience. We label and get labelled. I say, let’s just do that in a conscious way, so we are in the driver’s seat, not being dragged by the hair through the mud.
We can label ourselves. We can use labels to our own benefit by accepting the ones that serve us, the ones that resonate with us, and pushing away the ones that do not.
You can run without identifying as a runner. You can do CrossFit without calling yourself a CrossFitter (or talking about CrossFit). You can do obstacle races, without labelling oneself Super Mega Elite Beast on your athlete page.
Taking ownership of who you are is incredibly empowering. You are what you are because you say you are. Believe it hard enough, and everyone else will too.
YOUR TURN: Which labels do you apply to yourself? Which labels do other people apply to you? How much overlap is there? What are some of the labels that others may use to describe you, but you do not accept?
Hugs, (Labelled AND Self-Identified as SOLO)