How I Finally Ditched that Old Insecurity and How Labels are Involved

Labels are a reality of life. We put them on ourselves, we put them on others and we make decisions based on these quick one-word judgments and classifications we have of things. Ideally, we learn to losen the grip on the labels we place on ourselves, but today I’ve had enough of letting my life be dictated by the labels you’ve put on me.

Yes you, I’m talking to you. I’m talking you 10th grade French teacher who planted the seed that I was just not a “language person”. And you too random travel acquaintance I met a lifetime ago, maybe I am a “relationship person”. Oh, and don’t think I’m forgetting about you dear ex-bf, with those disorganized, pragmatic and cold titles you placed over my head.

It’s what we do. We place the labels and walk away as though no damage has been done. But the one being labeled doesn’t always walk away so casually. Sometimes, the words bounce right off and we don’t even notice, but other times, these random comments stick around long term. 

Those damn label-makers

If you know me at all, you know that I’m all about taking responsibility for the life we lead. And so here, I think no different.

Sure, it’s annoying that those labelers so carelessly shove us into some awkward box we never deserved to be in. Even worst if they were teachers.

But if we’re gonna be honest with ourselves, we’ve probably done the same thing to other people.

Think about it, when was the last time you told a friend, family member or ex-partner that they were bad at math, horrible at sports or just not a people person?

Ya, you probably said it innocently enough. But inevitably a few of those innocent comments you so causally threw around have been annoying hanging over this person’s head ever since.

So, if we are just as guilty of this innocent labeling crime as others, and we know we didn’t do it maliciously, then they probably didn’t either.

Instead of holding on to your resentment towards them, let’s see what else we can do to actually deal with about this lingering labeling conundrum.

the labels we place on ourselves

Having a strong force field is ideal

Ideally, we are strong and kick ass enough to block all unnecessary incoming labels. Unfortunately, a lot of the ridiculous tags that we hold onto were placed onto us eons ago when we were still so young and innocent that our confidence-forcefields were still easily penetrable.

Our strong confident selves weren’t yet fully there to take charge and tell those pesky labels to get the hell out of here.

Instead, we took them in, packed the up and have being carrying them around with us ever since.  

The type of load we might be carrying around.

Now that we’re all grown up, hopefully, we have developed a more adequate shield of armor. We don’t allow that shit to just come right in and set up camp around our heart, our self-doubt and our confidence.

Instead, we hear the useless label, you suck, you’re bad at singing, you could never start your own business and just immediatly let it go. It comes in one ear and goes out the other.

No holding on, no taking on the others person’s projections or insecurities or letting them take long term hold of us by becoming the official column-heading-maker of our identity’s Excel sheet.

The only one that should be choosing title headings is you. Not some random Jo Shmo with their passing commentary.

Step one to making sure that others aren’t dictating your life choices and stopping you from embarking on a life journey meant just for you is to not let the random labels get to us.

Turn the inner spam filter on. And make sure it’s on high alert. No useless crap should be making its way into your head. 

Assessing and eliminating is more realistic

Although deflecting and avoiding are the ideal strategies to avoid taking on the unbeneficial labels others try to give us, deleting them is more realistic.

Mainly because, like I mentioned earlier, most of the labels we carry around with us have been there since childhood.

Now that they’re already there, we need to get rid of them.

This means having a look at the labels we’ve already taken on and getting rid of those that don’t apply.

To do this, you gotta be willing to take a long hard look inside to see how you define yourself and ask yourself how it got to be this way.

What does that inner critic say to you? What things do you avoid or just assume you suck at? Or what aspects of your personality have you always just assumed were a certain way?

Maybe it’s time to shine some light on all those ways of being or ways of not being and seeing if they are actually valid.

Are you really bad at sports or are you just assuming this to be true cause Jim told you this years ago?

Maybe it’s time you join that soccer league you’ve been eyeing up or finally get into running and see how you do. Since 5th-grade gym class, maybe you’ve gotten better at running. Or maybe you haven’t, but you get a kick out of doing it anyway.

Recreating our own labels

It’s only after having become fluent in a third language, working full time in the newly acquired language and even working professionally as an editor that I started to question whether my 10th grade French teacher was right. Was I really bad at languages?

There are a million reasons that I could have sucked at French class in 10th grade. It could have been a language related concern, like I didn’t understand the grammar, or it could have been something totally non-language related, like a cute boy distracted me in class.

Or maybe, dare I say, her teaching techniques weren’t working for me.

Yes, as a teacher, it can be easy to assume that you know better. And I assume that given her skills, her tools, her context as a professional teacher in a conservative educational system, maybe I didn’t learn the way she wanted to teach me.

But did that really have to mean that I deserved to be put into the box of “bad at languages”?

No, it didn’t.

Unfortunately, it took me over 20 years to realize that.

Today, I shed that label. It’s no longer coming along with me for the ride.  It’s dragged me down long enough, and I’m ready to be freed from this inapropriate label.

Instead, I’m confidently ready to relabel the title of my language skillset: Fluently trilingual with my own unique twang in a few of them.

Gratitude instead of resentment

Sure, I could be pissed. I could sit around bitching about the quality of modern-day education systems or break down how much teacher’s thoughtless remarks surely bruised the confidence of countless young souls.

But I won’t.

Like I said at the beginning. This teacher was a label maker and so am I.

I don’t do it to be a jerk, I do it because I’m human, as was my teacher.

So instead of holding onto a grudge, I’m grateful for the hurdle that this teacher placed in front of me.

All the doubt and insecurity that she put on me about my language skills were one of the main factors that pushed me to get my Spanish to where it is today. Then, while working as an editor, it was this same drive that nudged me to develop my ability to pay attention to detail (which I think is the real fault that French teacher misdiagnosed).

So, I thank you dear French teacher for placing doubt on me. I’m eternally grateful.

It was this doubt that encouraged me to prove myself. This skepticism guided my path and pushed me to embark of a journey of language learning that would change my life.

Me at my very first Spanish class in Guatemala a lifetime ago.

Using criticism to empower you

Finding your way in life is though. There’s no doubt about that.

It’s easy to imagine that the ideal circumstance is that we wander through the adventures of life without heavy labels weighing us down or negative experiences to halt our journey.

But negative experiences, challenges, criticism, underserved labels, and all that other unpleasant stuff are natural parts of the journey of life.

The ideal circumstance isn’t that they don’t exist, it’s that we become better at managing those hurdles.

So instead of becoming a pro at avoiding being put into undeserved boxes, become a pro at not letting yourself get stuffed into those boxes and unnecessarily carrying around those labels.

Use those experiences to strengthen and grow your confidence and self-love.

When these types of experiences arise, ask yourself “Am I worthy of this label?” If not, use that experience to remind yourself of who you are, instead of who this person tried to make you be.

At the end of the day, you get to decide who you are. Not some random casual comment someone let slide.

To finish off, this video sums up pretty well why maybe we should put a smidgen of effort into doubting the validity of the labels we put on others.

Interested in reading about how labels are putting us in boxes that don’t benefit us, but don’t have time right now? Pin it here!

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. José Pancorbo

    I’m grateful to that French teacher and whatever made you come to Spain. Most of them thanks to you.

  2. Anh

    This article is on point!! And you haven’t changed much since Guatemala!!!

    1. Jo

      Haha, thanks Anh! Within myself, I feel like a whole new person since Guatemala

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