Labels for Life
...and the meanings we attach to them.
Early in my life I was labeled an “introvert.” At the time, I didn’t even know what that really meant. I was extremely shy with high anxiety. And when I asked around to find out what an “introvert” was - somehow, I walked away with it meaning that I don’t like people - not a people person. And what I was unable to articulate at the time, it hurt me deeply. Everything else about introvert fit - extremely shy wallflower who can’t function in crowds or around strangers or high stress situations and quiet / doesn’t talk much. So, I guess I don’t like people. But deep down I always carried with me how wrong that truly was because I cared…. deeply. I was screaming inside for someone to get to know me enough to find that out. But until then, I created a thick shell around me and I lived, emotionally, as a turtle.
For the people I allowed in my circles, they can tell you that I care & how much. They can also tell you I am NOT quiet once you get to know me - especially if you get me talking about something I am passionate about or defending the underdog or sounding off about some injustice that’s being done. I love people very much - I always have. (Well, except that one holiday season in college when I worked retail.)
Fast forward to much later in life…
I was introduced to the Myers-Brigg Personality Type Indicator and MBPTI changed my life! It’s the only personality test that actually pegged me - I normally wasn’t pegged as any particular personality in most tests because I have a diverse chameleon type personality depending on what role / situation I am. I learned that I am somewhat rare as an INFP. I also learned a more accurate and more healthy explanation of what an introvert is. Introvert is really about energy and has nothing to do with whether or not you like people or not. Being around people drains me. I recharge being alone. Unlike my dad or my brother who were both extreme extroverts who recharged with people and were drained during the times they spent alone. Actually, when you convert other things into energy, I’m drained by more than just people. Loud noises, loud cars / motorcycles, bright, fluorescent lighting, crowds, gatherings with strangers, overpowering aromas, busy sight stimuli (too much visual chaos going on), too much information coming in, too many notifications etc. Call it extreme introversion or extreme sensory processing disorder - or sensory processing disorganization is what I call it - more accurate.
I carried around this wrong meaning for a majority of my life of just one word.. one label: introvert. That child in me wishes so much that rather than just labeling me as an introvert to help explain me to others in a way that makes sense to them, that someone had taken the time to explore what that really meant, how energy works, and teach me some coping mechanisms and skills to manage energy and step out of that belief that I just didn’t like people. I still struggle with knowing the best ways to express interest in people. I am interested and I am curious - but I need to move that from a state in my head to action - so that I am known for being interested and curious about people… Stick my head out of my turtle shell and greet people, get to know them, etc. I am better than I used to be. But I know I have a long way to go before it just becomes second nature to me. My word phrase for 2024 reflect that - more on that later.
Another label attached to me as a child by school guidance counselors - underachiever. Apparently I’m a freaking genius and I failed to meet expectations that my IQ set for me. Maybe I’m not an underachiever. Maybe I was in a crappy educational setting. (I say that tongue in cheek because I was lucky enough to be in the public school system before they quit leveling classes according to IQ/grades/expectations and before the mandatory testing that consumes focus of educators today. I had some freaking amazing teachers throughout my educational journey.) Maybe I wasn’t given high standards to achieve into. Something more specific than “you can do anything you want to do.” How is a kid supposed to figure out how to do that, exactly?
I only had ONE teacher in my primary education who ever set forth expectations when we entered her classroom. If we didn’t meet those standards/expectations, we had to be there after school 3 days a week until we did. (Apparently, this kid who could do anything she wanted to do couldn’t do algebra to save her life!) I worked my tail off for her to meet those standards & expectations.
I had one college level instructor who was the same. She is my most favorite teacher ever in all of my education. When I ended up in her class as a Freshman, everyone told me to go change my schedule - she was hard. I welcomed the challenge - besides - it was English - how hard could it be? ha! I spent hours and hours on a paper for her class and when she handed back my paper with a B on it. I was stunned. That paper was flawless - a B? Really? I teared up. I poured into that paper. She asked me to stay after class. I stayed in my seat paralyzed with overwhelm by all the thoughts rushing in - how was I gonna convince my parents to let me drop out of college. I’d never earned a B in English EVER on a paper! I’m a writer for goodness sake! She came over and sat down with me and put her hand on my arm as tears were now freely flowing. She told me I was the only person in her class of over 60 students who had a passing grade on this paper. She told me the only reason I didn’t get an A was because she felt like she didn’t get my best. Then she asked me, “Did you give me your best on this paper?” I slowly shook my head no. I didn’t plan my time well. I needed more time with it. She gave it back to me and challenged me to give my best and she’d change the grade. But she warned me - my grade could also go down. I got the A. And I knew with everything I did in her class - it had to be my best. And her class is the top of the very few good memories I have from my brief college experience.
Anyway, back to the labels topic. Labels serve one purpose. They tell someone else what’s inside. They are never meant for you to determine what’s inside yourself - never define yourself as a label that someone else has given you. When someone labels me as “introvert” or “underachiever” - they hold meanings for those other people that help them process me into their understanding. They don’t have to mean anything to me. Salt is going to be salt no matter what the label says, right? In addition, we often end up attaching the wrong meanings to those labels.
A deep dive into labels is a tiny piece of the initial Savor Life Cohort intensive in January 2024. You can a taste of that below in today’s Your Turn activity. You can also learn more about the cohort below if you’re interested.
Thank you for reading. Have an amazing week!
Until next time… unapologetically,
What labels have been assigned to you? Are they accurate? Have you attached flawed meanings to them and allowed them to define who you are at your core in ways that don’t really speak to who you really are?
What doesn’t belong? What labels can you ditch right now?
Are you giving your best today?
What are you own standards of excellence you strive to meet daily? How do they differ from what someone else might set for you?
Or, has anyone ever set forth standards of excellent operations for you?
How do you cope when you don’t meet them?
Life Souvenirs | Unleash Your Greatest Story:MelAnn-Stripped is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.