What’s in a label?

Definition of label: a word or phrase indicating that what follows belongs in a particular category or classification: The following definition has the label“Archit.”.

Okay, so there are a few definitions of the word label. I find the definition above to be one of the more dangerous.

Usually, when we are at parties or networking events or meeting someone for the first time, we get the question, “What do you do?” The funny thing is, more often than not we answer with a title, rather than what we actually do. I’m a lawyer. I’m an actor. I’m a construction worker. I’m a librarian. I’m an artist.

Titles, labels, and status have become so important in our society that we rarely open with what we do. “I work in law. I perform. I build houses. I run a library. I create.” How much more interesting do you think conversation would be if we answered in verbs? I myself have run into this dilemma multiple times. If i answer that I’m an actor, I know I will get a, “Whoa, cool” or a “Oh…isn’t that cute.” or “How do you do that?”

I went to a #RespectHERHustle conference last year and Lynn Bardowski encouraged the entrepreneurs to begin answering the question, “What do you do?” or “What does your company do?” with a vision and mission statement instead. This immediately takes the pressure and worry of you and instead focuses on what you accomplish. And shouldn’t that be what this is all about anyway?

Do we all only do one thing? Not really. Some of us are daughters, mothers, fathers, teachers, bankers, accountants, soldiers, leaders…The world isn’t as black and white as attempt to make it out to be. And why is that? Why do we feel the need to constantly seek validation from OTHERS by picking one thing and being defined by it?

I know I am asking a lot of actual questions here. But I think it’s important for us to remember that we are never one thing. And that’s okay.

Some people stick to one discipline because it makes them happy. Others want to stretch in other ways because one discipline doesn’t make them happy enough. When I allowed myself to write, produce, direct, along with being an actor, I felt even more fulfilled. But it wasn’t that easy. Especially when I first realized I wanted to run my own company too, the thought terrified me. Not so much the thought of starting something new, but the idea that I could be leaving something behind. It took me some time to realize that I wasn’t leaving anything behind at all. I was using what I had learned up until that point to expand into something new.

Acting is one of my many passions. To me, it just feels right. But I have always been the type of person that enjoys having a few fires burning so I can jump back and forth between things and be stimulated in new ways. My mom reminded me to think about when I was a teenager. I was interested in so many things. I loved learning. I didn’t rush myself to decide what I wanted to do with my life, but when I knew it was the performing arts, I latched on and didn’t let go. It’s important to have that kind of focus to grow. But it’s also important to know when it’s time to transform and learn something new on top of it.

My unsolicited advice is this: Don’t hang onto a label because you are scared of what you will lose if you no longer choose to be defined by it. Think about what you will gain.

Labels take up a lot of time. We label monetary gain and loss, weight, time, family, professions, cars, places we live, statistics…it doesn’t end. So why don’t we all just give ourselves a break and instead of judging what we do, go out there and keep chasing what makes us happy?

I wish you a label-free day! (Seriously..the next time someone asks you what you do, tell them what you do. See how it goes!)

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Reflections

Marsha Howard Karp and me, holding the illustrious Marsha Karp statuette of awesome.
Marsha Howard Karp and me, holding the illustrious Marsha Karp statuette of awesome.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be a guest on “Cameras Rolling,” Marsha Howard Karp’s talk show where she interviews entertainers about how they make their careers work.

On the gorgeous spring day, I was happy to reflect upon what the past couple of years have been like for me. I often tell friends and family who are feeling stuck..”Think back to where you were five years ago to this day. Did you have any idea that this was where you’d be?” I had a moment of deep gratitude yesterday morning as we talked about the industry, the challenges, and the beautiful moments that come out of it. I was grateful for my perseverance. If I had told myself five years ago that this was where I’d be, I don’t think I’d believe it.

Of course, this is all a journey and we each need to take one moment at a time. But I think taking a step back every now and then is a great way to keep it all in perspective and to remind yourself that you’re doing all right. In fact, you’re doing great. I witnessed my own path yesterday and realized it’s always been there We just need to pay attention to what rings true for us, and not necessarily everyone else.

Where were you five years ago, and what have you discovered about yourself since then?