Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Labeling is for Losers

The things I'm the most proud of doing didn't get done without conflict. I wasn't following a specific recipe. The ingredients weren't all in front of me, neatly labeled to ease my mind.

You can't start anything good by labeling, but I find that I like to label myself when start feeling insecure. I say, "I'm just a singer," when I feel like an inadequate guitar player, or "I'm just a songwriter," when I feel like I don't have good enough control over my voice. I say things like, "I'm more of a poet than a musician," when I feel like my arrangements start to bore me, or "I'm more artist than engineer," when I can't get the software to work for me.

These little labels are deadly. They can stop me before I even start.

But it's not just internal, I find a lot of conversations I have with people contain a subtext of labeling. With friends I often converse about likes and dislikes, determining why we are different from each other. I've had this discussion with my moderate friends, I say, "You're okay with a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but I want excitement, I want to push the limits and see where it all goes." There, I've just labeled us: You're moderate, I'm extreme. 

Nobody is one thing all the time, but for some reason we want those absolute, sweeping statements to be true. We like everyone neatly packaged and labeled so we can chuckle at those predefined characteristics as they manifest themselves:  

"Oh, that's just Matt, always so extreme."

We love to know what to expect. Our humanity doesn't like surprises.  Maybe this is because there's enough of the unknown out there to worry us. Perhaps that's why we're motivated to move things into the "known" category. 

Either way, it seems to me we tend compartmentalize and cram people into boxes, and if they don't fit, we discard them. We do the same with God (I can't believe in a God who would...). The problem with labels is they're usually either wrong or not all right, and they can damage progress. They can kill change before it starts.

The way I like to process things is to first take a close look, then to take a giant step back to get a view of the big picture (I may be labeling myself here). The "macro" view can be damaging when you don't see the details, it's like critiquing a painting without first pressing your nose to the canvas to see  the brushstrokes, the blending of the colors.

The broad sweeping statements, the labeling and self-critique do very little (if nothing) to inspire us to paint. Those actions don't appreciate the work. They don't require the work (the micro) to function. They can simply stand back and very neatly and quickly stifle our creativity.

I've learned this: I can't sit around wondering whether I'm the "Talent" or the guy who works with the "Talent." Or whether or not I ever really had the guitar chops I needed. Or if I work better alone or with people, or whether I'm prolific by nature or not. Or whether or not I've made a huge mistake and I should have finished that real estate course.

I can't sit around LABELING myself, because when I do that I end up LIMITING myself.The good things happen when I simply DO something. Anything. Especially the things that scare me. 

When I stop sitting around defining myself as incapable and start actively pursuing something I start achieving more. I suddenly start feeling more capable.

I'm probably not crazy. I'm guessing some of you do the, "I'm not really good at _______," thing. You should know that no matter how good you get at something (or how good other people think you are at something), doubt will always meet you there. 

Just don't shoot yourself in the foot before you start. Don't put boundaries on your talents, don't label and limit and box yourself up. Stretch out and start pretending you're capable of great things, and you'll be surprised how many great things you can accomplish.

1 comment:

  1. I understand totally what you are driving at, but sometimes the labels are true and do fit. I'm forever saying I'm a terrible cook and it's true I am, probably because unless I get inspired, I don't really care, cause I hate to cook! It just happens to be something you have to do, but not something I'm really interested in. You picking up on a label here? "Lazy" or "half ass" come to mind! But I try not to take labels too seriously, although there are some that I find comforting, "loved" "redeemed" "forgiven" "Child of God" "Christ's beloved" etc.