Categorization, classification, labels. These aren’t typically words associated with personal or creative freedom. Both the fields of sociology and psychology inform us that labeling ourselves and/or others causes a distortion of our perspective, which can be emotionally destructive.
Categorical labeling is something people do, however, to cope with the chaotic complexity of their surroundings, it’s human nature to categorize what and who exists in their environment.
There is a sense of security and order in placing people into clearly marked boxes, poor, rich, educated, uneducated, male, female, etc. The problem, however, is that “boxes” are restrictive and confining. People placed into a particular category often feel they have little power to change or break from their assigned labels.
In fact, Labeling theory posits that people come to not only identify with their labels but also behave in the ways that reflect that prescribed identity. So, if you are labeled as mean, ugly, stupid then you will come to not only believe these identities, you will also incorporate them into your sense of self.
Simply, you are what you believe—what others make you believe.
Of course, conversely, if you are categorized as pretty, special, smart then you will identify yourself with these labels.
Your perception of self can be either negative or positive depending on your classification. But it’s commonly accepted that any prescribed labels—negative or positive—are restrictive to your perception of self and your consideration of your abilities and possibilities.
So, if we accept that labels are restrictive then how is categorizing yourself freeing?
Categorization is freeing when we use it as a means to expand our self-identification. We do this by not putting ourselves into one box but rather into hundreds of boxes.
Associating ourselves with particular groups, specific interests, individual likes and dislikes is a useful tool to connect us, give us security, and provide us with a sense of belonging in our environment.
The key to be free is that you don’t limit where you belong.
This is crucial on personal level but also critical in your career. After all, our profession is a large part of our individual identification.
There was a time, in the not so distant past, when your career choice was singularly defined. You were a doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc. Although, there’s security in being sheltered by simply classified roles, there are also inherent limitations with these narrowly characterized positions.
The solution is currently seen in today’s professional landscape. Look no further than your Twitter followers to see how people are now identifying in the working world. Gone are the limiting one-word labels. Instead, people now tag themselves with every category that can fit into a sound bite bio.
We are no longer just writers. We are bloggers, writers, editors, and readers. It’s the same with doctors and lawyers. I have often seen writer, speaker, life coach next to MD.
What does this mean?
It means that when we identify as more than a writer or a lawyer then we become more than these labels. Adding labels allows us to still maintain the security of defining and belonging in our environment without being trapped inside one restrictive box.
In essence, we don’t need to bust free from our categories, instead we need to increase and diversify our categories to free us.
Thank you for reading. I look forward to your comments.