labelsI used to be shy, at least according to other people. Growing up my parents, teachers, and friends referred to me as shy, quiet, or—my least favorite—“timid.” These descriptions of my personality stuck with me as a kid and were reinforced in my gawky, awkward teenage years.

I viewed the world as a timid person does. As people close to me continued to call me shy, my experiences served to cement my existence as timid. Timid was my label. It was given to me by those who knew me best and repeated until I accepted it as my own and allowed it to color my everyday life events. It took one class in my last year of high school that changed this…

My psychology teacher made me laugh every day. He also made me think. He taught me that my mind tends to simplify its environment by putting things into broad categories based on my previous experiences. We do this because our minds conceptualize more efficiently this way, and it happens on an unconscious level. I was fascinated that my own brain was doing sneaky, covert operations without my knowledge. Some people would refer to this process as “generalization” or even “stereotyping.” My teacher taught that although these terms can carry negative connotations, they are part of something we all do within our own minds without conscious effort.

We often assign labels to our stereotypes. Our tendency to compartmentalize often leads us to view our world from the perspective of those compartments, or labels, we create. My label was “timid”, and by extension, the way I approached life was inexorably influenced by that label. I came to this realization at 17 years old.

My mind was blown. I was instantly angry at myself for buying into a label I had never really felt was true. Sure, I’m an introvert, but I am not shy; it took a long time to understand and accept the difference between the two.  I still reminisce about how my label might have altered my thoughts, judgments, and actions over the years. Now, the label has been rebuffed, along with its accompanying limits.

Now, how does all my introspection relate to you?

I’m here to tell you as a Career Step instructor that labels are a common thing among Career Step students. Some of the most limiting labels I hear are:

• “I’m old”
• “I’m busy”
• “I can’t remember”
• “I have no experience”
• “I’m not tech savvy”
• “I’m a mom”
• “Things happened”

I recognize struggling people when I hear these things, so I resist the strong temptation to stop them and say “BALONEY!!!” Not one of these labels is accurate in the context used. If you’ve self-imposed a labels, it has already started to alter your thoughts, judgments, and actions. This is negativity that can spiral out of control if unchecked.

If you catch yourself accepting a label—fight it! Don’t let it limit your potential! There are positives for every negative.

“I’m old.” You have more experience and patience. Our oldest graduate was 86 and the runner up was 79! We have many students who are 60+ who have found success, and you can too.

“I’m busy.” Great! But don’t let your schedule push you around! This is an opportunity to better organize and prioritize your time so you can have some “you time” in which to meet your goals. Time doesn’t always have to be a limiting factor; it can be a fantastic motivator if you manage it rather than letting it manage you. 

“I can’t remember.” You don’t always have to. Large amounts of info are not meant to be digested all at once. The key is to prioritize what needs to be learned and when you can use resources to remember for you. Remembering will come with time and repetitive practice.

“I have no experience.” This is not a limit; it’s an opportunity. We can teach you all you need to know from the basics on up to certification. You can learn the concepts and master the skills—practicing the skills gives you experience.

“I’m not tech savvy.” You can be. You’re not going to be creating software applications by the end of the course, but if you follow the directions and take one step at a time you will have all the savvy you need by graduation.

“I’m a mom.” I can’t dispute that you have children, but being a mom is, in reality, the least limiting label I can think of. I know what moms are capable of. I can’t think of anything greater to prepare you for the patience, discipline, and resourcefulness necessary to complete a Career Step course than being a mom. I see being a mom as the ultimate proving ground for anything challenging in life. Next to motherhood, completing a training program is a breeze.

“Things happened.” This is probably the most common limiting label I hear. Dealing with things that happen in life is important. Equally important is making things happen for yourself. Waiting for opportunities to just unfold around you or letting life events derail your plans is a passive approach to life. When you enrolled in a Career Steps course you made an active choice—follow this active approach by persevering until you make your goals a reality.

Don’t allow yourself to be “timid.” Don’t accept negative labels and let them influence the way you approach your course or your life. Yes, your mind wants to simplify your experiences and surroundings, but don’t let your mind simplify YOU into a label.

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