Labels. We “give” them to each other—and even ourselves—based on gender, race, education, marital status, occupation, social class, address, religion, dietary choices, clothing and voting record.
Single. Married. Dual income without kids (Dinks as my friends classify themselves). Stay-at-home mom. Working mom.
Housewife. Farmwife. Not a wife. Divorcee. Cohabitator.
Dirt poor. Lower class. Middle class. Upper class. Millionaire.
Christian. Muslim. Jew. Buddhist. Atheist.
Republican. Democrat. Independent. Libertarian. Who cares.
And the list goes on and on.
The real question is: Do you box yourself in based on the labels others give you? Or, maybe self-imposed labels are the culprit. There have been times in my life where I have let a label control my attitude and my actions. Through the years, though, I have learned to not allow the boundaries of a label define me and how I live.
I’m proud of many of the labels I’m living today. I’m proud of the labels that tell where I’ve been and point to where I might be headed.
But I don’t let a label solely define who I am. Just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I don’t have non-Christian friends. Of course I do. Did Jesus just hang out with His followers? No. At the same time, I need Christian fellowship and teaching. I crave encouragement. I need to grow in my faith and live my Christian label out loud.
At 18, I became a single mom. People make all sorts of labels on single parents. Slut. Trashy. Irresponsible. Talk about labels!
I remember being at a college track meet and my parents had brought my baby son. A white, male athlete from my team looked at me and said, “I never knew your son was white.” Did he think white kids are not born out-of-wedlock? Whatever his ridiculous assumption, I blankly stared at him and said, “Why does it matter?” and walked away. Days later, a black, male athlete and friend walked my baby son in a stroller around the track and campus, telling people, “Look at how cute my son is!” He did it to make a few waves and as a joke because it isn’t the label of our skin color that makes us who we are.
Regardless of the label, being a single mom didn’t stop me from earning a college degree and working hard to build a successful career. When I became a mom for the second time, at age 28, I was married. It didn’t make me a better mom. Or less of a mom. It was just a label. Each child is a blessing and a gift.
I adore my role as a wife. I dreamed of being labeled a wife for years. It’s hard work, though, and requires time and an intense amount of communication. Being a wife doesn’t mean I’m subservient. It doesn’t mean I scrub my floors daily. It doesn’t mean I prepare perfect meals with a smile on my face. It doesn’t mean I’m less of a woman. Being a wife would be a miserable label if I had married the wrong man. It’s not a label I take lightly, and it’s most definitely one that I’m growing into with each year of marriage.
Stay-at-home, work-at-home, work-outside-the-home, part-time, full-time, whatever label you or someone else throws on you in regard to your work status is irrelevant to me. My work-from-home/stay-at-home-mom label varies day by day. For you, it might vary based on personal and professional factors for a particular stage of life.
In the past couple of years, I’ve been encouraged to run for elected office. The first words out of my mouth were something along the lines of, “Oh, but I would be a terrible Republican.” The truth is, I’m a conservative and I probably don’t fit into what society labels as a Republican. I live by a set of morals and values that I believe are right for my family, community, state, country and world. So why can’t I conform to the label of a specific political party? Because I’m scared of the label. A friend, who happens to be an elected official, once said to me: “Don’t ever worry about that again. You are great, Katie, just the way you are.”
Guess what I did? No, I’m not running for an elected office in this chapter of my life; I went to my District 28 Republican meeting, voiced my opinion about an issue others at the meeting disagreed on and then wrote a check to pay my dues.
I might not perfectly match up with a label, but I’m not going to let that hold me back. I’m not going to let one label define who I am or who I am not.
In a couple of months, I’m going to turn 35. For the past 30 years, I have lived in accordance to labels.As a grade schooler, I was labeled the tallest kid in the class, the only girl with glasses and the one who wears homemade clothes. It wasn’t until high school that I realized that labels didn’t make me a nerd; rather, they made me uniquely me. Thanks to my mom’s advice, I straightened my spine, cocked back my shoulders, put a little spring in my step and stood a little taller. I realized that wearing clothes handmade by my mom was actually something to cherish.
Despite my best efforts, labels leave scars. I can’t erase the scars, but that’s OK. The subtle reminders encourage me to not get bogged down by the weight of a label.
Today, I stand tall, both in inches and confidence. Some days I’m thin and others I’m not. I’m a mom. I’ve been married for seven years. My work status adjusts based on my stage of life. I’m fiercely dedicated. I’m a strategist, a speaker and a blogger. I’m crazy about volunteering. I’m a daughter, a sister and a friend.
Regardless of your label, claim it and any others that give you the confidence to live life to its fullest. Don’t give others the satisfaction of slapping a label on you that fences you in. Climb over, or charge through if that’s what it takes. Live beyond your labels.
What labels do you live by today? What labels do you live outside of today?
Marytina Lawrence says
Great post Katie. I agree completely and love your insight and candid way of telling your story and being willing to be transparent.
What a wonderful post, filled with beauty and strength!
Rock on sista!
Lovely post, Katie! Reminded me that we learn a lot about ourselves from these labels (whether good or bad) – I remember being labeled Jewish when I went to college solely because of my last name (Ginsburg). Interestingly, my Dad is Jewish but I had never though much about the label automatically applying to me, as I was raised Lutheran in a small town (my mom is Lutheran). When I moved to the big city, though, many people automatically thought that without even asking me. And of course – often being the only female at meetings in a very male-dominated industry was (and is) always interesting, but I never let it bother me – or stop me from succeeding. 🙂
Well said Katie! Sometimes I think self-imposed labels are the most confining. These were words I needed right now