May 23, 2011

Hello, My Name Is…

I’m not a minimalist. I think it’s good to be intentional about what you own and how you take up space in the world, but I have no desire to move to a 300 square foot apartment and religiously track the number of socks that I own.

I’m not a lifestyle designer. As far as I can tell, I’ve been designing my lifestyle since 1978—that’s part of never having a real job, pursuing the goals I’ve been working on for ten years, and non-conformity in general.

Technically I’m location independent, but I have a home in Portland, Oregon. I could live entirely out of my carry-on bag if I wanted to, but I don’t want to… so I don’t.

Having It Both Ways

Labels are used to put people in ideological boxes and restrict their choices. According to label theory, if you are an x, surely you’d never do y, because y is a violation of the code. Isn’t that funny—something that starts out as a freeing concept becomes a restrictive one as more and more people take on the label.

That’s why I like having it both ways. Take what works from these movements and apply them to your life. Focus on what is relevant for you and ignore the rest. Some would say it’s impossible to have it both ways. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, or so the saying goes—but what else do you do with cake? Personally, I like to eat it. I’m pro-cake.

Once in a while I read a blog post that includes me in a feature about one of these (or other) labels. I’m listed as a new leader in minimalism, one of the biggest names in lifestyle design, or something new I’ve never heard of. Thanks for the links, everyone! But I hate to break it to you… I’m not really in anyone’s club. Sorry.

I don’t think that any of these ideological constructs are bad—in fact, they’ve clearly done good things for the world and helped a lot of people live more intentionally. But I do think it’s a mistake to group yourself into someone else’s idea of identity. If you want to label yourself, why not make your own label?

Start the new social movement of You. By joining today, you’ll increase membership by 100%! Or better yet, avoid labels altogether, and just be yourself. Everyone else is already taken, right?

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Image: Keith

Comment on this article

76 Responses to “Hello, My Name Is…”

  1. On a biological level, labels help our brains categorize and sort through information in a fast and (technically) efficient manner. Socially, we are at first attracted to tagging ourselves with labels to be part of a desired “in-group,” whether a popular majority (“fitting into the crowd”) or a distinct minority (trend-setters, etc).

    But as you mention Chris, labels do more to constrict and limit us, even if they are only in name. It’s something you see in the workplace especially, when somebody limits their ambitions or personal initiative by saying “that’s not my job.”

    Labels will grow to frustrate you in all likelihood (they frustrate me– try explaining to someone at a bar .3 seconds after meeting them that you’re a _________). But in the end, unconstrained by labels is the best way to be in my opinion.

    I call it the joyful frustration of indefinable Being.

    D

  2. Well said. I think aligning yourself with a movement or a tribe is an easy way to get quick fame/hits/money, but ultimately you’re limited by that movement.

    Going your own way means not having to say you’re sorry.

  3. I’m pro-cake too! Yum. Thanks for the positive message to start the week.

    “Focus on what is relevant for you and ignore the rest.”

    This idea echoes Buddha’s own teachings, which is why I was drawn to the philosophy/religion in my 20′s. Experiment with everything, and keep whatever works best for you.

  4. I think you’re right that labels can be useful constructs if they help someone find purpose or direction in what they’re doing, or even find a community of people out there doing similar things. But you have to know when to use them and when not to or else you can be restrained by the label. Interesting idea!

  5. Your advice reminds me of the Bruce Lee quote that goes something like “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is uniquely your own.”

    Ascribing to one of the groups you mentioned only puts limitations on people. In my travels, I’ve encountered the tourist vs. traveler argument and it seems to me people always think the tourist is the other guy. I’m just pro-travel and pro-cake. Preferably chocolate.

  6. I recently relabeled my so called business, a label in itself. I hesitate to label myself though. Yes I make art take pictures, write some, do yoga etc. But I am not these things. Also I am a concerned citizen trying to live conscientiously, but what does that really mean?

    I agree labels are not so useful unless you are fully committed to a single path in life, and even then things change. I am getting new biz cards this week and I am seriously thinking I will just have my name and contact info on them. Why risk adding a label and adding to the collection of no longer valid cards I have? We’ll see.

    I am all for eating the cake!

  7. Labels intensify the “us vs. them” mentality. Pretty soon, we stop seeing people as unique individuals and start seeing them as the group we put them in. That only creates unnecessary hostility.

    Also, I encountered the problem of labels when I launched my first website. I labeled myself and immediately felt boxed in by the restrains the label placed on me. Labels might be good initially to focus what you might want to do, but in the end they only restrict your creativity.

    In light of this, I’m starting the “Death to Labels” label. Who wants in?

  8. Good to see you’re pro-cake..

  9. I’m pro-cake :). You crack me up Chris.

  10. I’ve always felt strongly about not labeling myself. I like to keep my options open. I agree that it starts to feel like you have less freedom when you limit yourself to one idea or label.

  11. Great words! You’re the CEO of YOU! Keep shipping, cuz you’re an inspiration to those of us who aren’t yet the CEO’s of ME, just yet.

  12. I agree that labels can be limiting, and it is often wise to test different principles and make conscious decisions about which aspects of the labels you want to adopt.

    But, I’m curious…

    Would you accept the label of “non-conformist?” :)

  13. I’ve always thought the “have your cake and eat it too” expression absurd. Of course if I have it I get to eat it. What am I going to do? Let it go stale on the counter? Then I read how the original expression “eat your cake and have it too.” Well, yes, that is trickier.

    Labels are limiting. I want to argue this when someone tells me they don’t read “fantasy” or whatever label. Or when someone wants to call me a “woman writer.” Honestly, a good story is a good story. A writer is a writer. If you want to use a label as a guide–fine. But don’t use it as a locked door.

    Good points as usual, Chris.

  14. May 23, 2011

    Jess P.

    Thank you for this post!!! It is so easy to get caught up in some of these all or nothing ideals, but for what? Most of my friends and family would definitely label me a “minimalist” but I own wayyyy more than 100 things. My husband and I love to travel, but we also love our cats and love having a home to cuddle up in and watch Hulu or Netflix with “the guys” on our laps.

    But how can you be a minimalist if you have a job and a tv and a couch! Impossible! (so says “they”)

    By making our own life without lables we are able to be so much happier than trying to decide which pots to get rid of since we are only allowed to have one total. I’m still wondering how you cook pasta AND sauce with only one pot. ;p

    ~Jess P.

  15. I think a lot of people still don’t ‘get it’. They think “Oh, the new trend is to be a non-conformist– I want to be one too!” Duh

  16. I love that message and totally agree. I don’t think you should label yourself in a way that limits you or holds you back. I appreciate the advice and confirmation that it is okay to just be you … whatever that mean. It really doesn’t matter if people can’t describe what or who you are according to socially accepted and known categories. Thanks for that message.

  17. I believe we can eat our cake and SHARE it too!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Chris.

  18. Amen. I didn’t find your blog until after I’d been working for myself and living from wherever I wanted for a year. And I was traveling and generally being a noncomforist long before that.

    At first it was cool to find this community of folks with similar worldviews, but increasingly its been frustrating to find a community of folks who wish they had a similar worldview, or who are pretending to have a similar worldview, or want to make a buck off of this worldview before living it.

    I’m drawn to site for the travel advice and for the stories you tell. Not because you have a Top 10 list of ways to live in Thailand on the cheap.

  19. While I completely agree with the sentiment, I have to answer your question (why not make your own label?) with a question: why not invent a new language?

    Both sound fun, but at the end of the day words serve a pretty important purpose. I apply certain labels to myself at times not because I am not unique, but became calling myself a “traveler” is easier than saying that “I move around a lot, like, from country to country” — just as saying “minimalist” is easier than saying “I reject the prevalence in materialism in today’s consumer-driven society.”

    But, you’re right. We take labels to far and sometimes let them define us instead of the other way around.

  20. For someone just realizing how and why they want to change and/or define who they are, labels aren’t necessarily a bad thing. I think it depends on how they’re used, in what context, and to what degree.

    I’m all about the cake as well and appreciate your candid approach to kindly addressing those who have been labeling you. As you noted, you’ve likely had an extremely positive impact on those people (I’m one of them!) and sometimes labeling makes it easier to explain to others – who many not yet understand or get ‘it’ yet – just what we’re up to and what it all means to us, individually. If that makes sense.

    Thanks for all you do, Chris.

  21. Last night I ran into a friend who oversees the digital media arm of a PR firm in Knoxville. He said he didn’t recognize me with a hat on, without my glasses. I’d been flyfishing in the Smokies all weekend, and hadn’t been home to change back into my Clark Kent get-up. We joked about my secret life as an outdoorsman, but as I drove home, I thought with some satisfaction that I am both/and. I can do storytelling, writing, digital media, and online marketing, and I can turn off my smart phone, grab my 3 weight, and wade into a cold mountain stream. I understand that either/or is a mnemonic that helps people remember details and organize their friends and acquaintances, but I certainly enjoy peeling off the labels.

  22. I’m more “Pro-pie” myself, but that certainly doesn’t make me “anti-cake”!

  23. I’ve always had an issue with the term “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” doesn’t make any sense… So I guess you’re just supposed to stare at the cake.

    And for the record, I’m pro cake.

  24. p.s. Your post also reminds me of the classic Groucho Marx quote:
    “Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.”

  25. As Steve Martin so eloquently put it:

    “Let’s all repeat the Non-Conformists Oath:
    I promise to be different!
    I promise to be unique!
    I promise not to repeat things other people say…..”

  26. In a way, I think labels help. There’s so much new information being thrown at us every day that we need a defined system to help process it and sort out which details are important and which should be ignored. Labels help us identify the people who are like us, define our target customers and discover a core message that appeals to these people.

    So to me, the issue isn’t labels, but the idea that only one label applies per person. I am an employee and an entrepreneur, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a dancer and at least a dozen other (sometimes contradictory) things. So to assume that anyone else could be summed up in a single label is flawed, in my mind, since I wouldn’t expect that kind of narrow perspective to be applied to me.

  27. Labels are tricky.. they can hinder us so much, but it is ridiculously hard to get our minds to stop thinking in labels.. or at least it is for me :) Back 10 years ago when i was in school I gave a speech on labeling people and the importance of being an individual. This post reminded me a lot of the speech. Being yourself is the only way to go.
    Great post Chris! This was a great blog to start my day off with.

  28. May 23, 2011

    Beatriz

    @ Nancy & Cindy: Great words. Sharing the cake seems to me the key to know if what you have found in yourself is worthwhile working toward. If you don’t help anyone but yourself, what does one’s great path lead to but oneself, spinning one’s wheels to self is purposeless. I may be the CEO & President of something grand, for all to praise, but If I haven’t resolved where Me fits in to that purpose, I feel I get lost in the process before I reach my end… confusing, to me at least, but thats how I feel. I NEED to understand what the purpose is of my freedom fight and where I am going, I cannot just say, “I am ______, and proud of it” UNTIL I have tested whether it works for moi, and those I love (key: selfish ambitions which do not include the people/spouse, partner, kids that love and count on you are simply not feasible, so this does slow down one’s non-conformist ambitions, as far as my life is concerned. Many dreams have come and gone, albeit achieved, they are history, time to figure out what that next step is, can’t just go out on a limb!

  29. Avoiding all labels… I want to cast off the labels I have put on myself. I labeled my own blog and felt intimidated to live up to it, instead of making it about my own pursuits and life goals. That is going to change. I am not the archetype of a clique – I am the sum of my own parts.

  30. I call myself an entrepreneur, not because that is what I wanted to be; but because that is what ‘they’ label me as. I am just doing what I love to do, integrating my interests, wrapping a business around them, and trying to get high on helping people. If nothing else, labeling is convenient; I can’t even begin to explain the agony of explaining ‘internet marketing’ and ‘dairy farming’ and ‘cakes’ in a conversation!!

    But I think, Chris, that the problem is not coming from stereotypes or ‘labels’, but from something much simpler. We are not always clear about the definition of ‘freedom’.

    Working yourself up to a level where you have more freedom eventually does mean that you have more to ‘live up to’. Not for other’s sake, but your own. In your case, it is obvious that you have designed your life, and that there are certain things that you yourself hold yourself accountable to. Nothing ‘free’ about holding one’s self accountable, now is there?

    I know you don’t confuse this, but a lot of people, the drawing room orators and armchair critics, only find the ‘idea of freedom’ appealing. The set of responsibilities that are woven into the ‘fabric of freedom’ rarely gets discussed.

  31. Chris, I love that you stay free of the labels. I tend to do that, too, for the most part. But even with non-labeling, I do sometimes slip into labeling. Sometimes, it’s fun to pretend like you do conform to a group, even if you’re not the “ideal”. For instance: I like to call myself “queer”. I certainly don’t fulfill that stereotype all the time. But for me, it’s a label that I’ve used to expand my sense of self, instead of constrict it. And I certainly don’t get mad at myself when I defy that label, which I do all the time.

    Yay for having cake! And yay for eating it!

  32. Everyone needs to feel that he/she belongs in a tribe. Having your own tribe sometimes feel a little bit lonely and that is why joining someone else’s or declaring him as your leader works better.

  33. Wonderful to read this today, I could not agree more. People love to put each other in boxes as it is easier that way. But is causes you to assume a great deal about someone that is often not true. Just because someone belongs to a particular political party or religion does not mean they agree with everything those groups believe. I love having an ‘independent’ mind as I feel it makes me more interesting and hopefully a bit mysterious. :)

  34. …pro-cake! ROFL- excellent observation- I have been dealing with the same thing as I revamp my eating habits- used to be hardcore vegan which quickly became less than sustainable and now I am content to occasionally incorporate some fish and chicken- but historically I have just have never naturally gravitated towards animal products (wasn’t exposed to many growing up) and I am turned off by the perpetual worried inquiries about whether leather, a hive of bees or gelatin was involved in a given product….ultimately I wish to consume consciously in a way that produces health and optimal energy levels for me- no public labels or recognition needed!

  35. May 23, 2011

    Brian Tkatch

    Labels are indications of preference, something all humans have in order to grow. Without preference, we’d stagger.

    >put people in ideological boxes and restrict their choices.

    Unfortunately, that is how they are seen by people who don’t want to admit that they indeed do have a preference. Because, by having a preference they “limit” themselves. In reality, if the person saw himself from the outside, he’d see to them too.

    >if you are an x, surely you’d never do y

    If you are x your preferences are usually other than y.

    >because y is a violation of the code.

    y does not violate a code. y can be done for a plethora of reasons, but it is usally done for reason z. Reason z is not a preference to x. But there may be another reason for doing it.

    >restrictive one as more and more people take on the label.

    It’s just a better indication of preference.

    Next week, we take on statistics. I am not a statistic!

  36. I agree totally on the pro-cake thing. Eat the cake for goodness sakes! Why the heck else did you make it? I’m pro-cookies, brownies and all things chocolate- especially dark. Eat them all!

    As for labels- we’re a homeschooling family (although I would call us free range life learners…. if I were labeling) and people really want to classify us for that- even other homeschoolers. We’re not religious fanatics and I don’t wear denim jumpers. My kids are smart, but not genius. We’re not social outcasts. We don’t adhere to any set method, but are following our own path and keeping life fun. Why not? If life should not be mundane for adults then monotony, pointless busy work and other soul sucking tortures are not good for children either- at least not mine.
    We’re too free form for some classifications and too structured for others. Whatever…..we’re just glad we get to do what we do- enjoy life.

  37. Uncanny timing, Chris. I was just thinking today about how much I’ve been trapped between mega self-awareness, and a fear of expressing what I know in its totality to the world. So much gets lost in translation, especially in our rush to slap labels on things! Part of that tricky play between our desire to name things, and still retain as much of the authentic essence as possible..

    *shakes fist at language*

    Anyway, definitely laughed out loud while reading this. Thanks for the simple and provocative honesty, as always!

  38. Labels can be either good or bad, depending on who is attempting to fix them on us. As humans, we are or can be multi-dimensional – all at are own choosing. We should never allow others to label us, for that is one’s own responsibility.

  39. I work with labels all day. It helps me when people like my label but than it hinders me when people don’t. It would be better if everyone forgot the this person of this profession acts this way and just looks at the individual. I admit I do sometimes label others but I try not to. It is better to go in treating everyone as an equal. Great article. Like most people I have some people think that I am a minimalist since i don’t have cable, am a frugal shopper and walk to work. To others I collect to many books, music and DVDs.

  40. I used to think that labels are OK to some extent as long as they’re self-applied. But it’s the perception of others, not my self-application, that matters.
    When some people hear “female blogger,” they might assume that I’m writing about my cute kids or my cute shoes. (I’m not.)

    I tend not to mention the fact that I go to church regularly because some people instantly write me off as a no-fun fanatical bigot. (The church I go to is very progressive and two of its three clergy members are gay. But people automatically assume that I’m closed-minded and/or hateful just because I attend at all.)

    As you suggest, I take what I like from each ideological construct and apply my own deeply odd, occasionally pain-in-the-ass spin. They say you should do one thing a day that scares you. I think you should do one thing a day that scares someone else. And that is my plan.

    Incidentally, I’m pro-cupcake.

  41. Now I really want some cake!

    But more on topic, I’ve always been sort of outside of anyone’s box. I’ve been told that I can’t be a housewife and an artist. I’ve been told that I can’t be a painter and a crafter. I’ve been told a lot of things that I disagree with. Obviously, I can do whatever I want to, because I do.
    I love being a mom. I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world, but I won’t give up other things to be a good mom either.
    I eat my cake every day. :D
    I strongly encourage others to do the same. Eat your cake and SHARE your cake, too!

  42. We also should consider labels as something some people latch onto to fill a void. All of us have had friends over the years who go from one “movement” to another. First a vegan, then indie kid, then a minimalist, then a Buddhist, then a… well, you get it.

    Having had these friends, in my experience those who tried to latch onto the labels the strongest were also the most unhappy. They key thing with labels:

    1. It’s something you buy into. Literally. To be on the “in” crowd, you have to get the look — try walking into an environmentalist meeting with a Nike t-shirt and you’ll get death stares, even though wearing an old shirt you’ve had for 10 years is MUCH better for the planet than buying a new shirt with “Go Green” written on it.
    2. Labels are attached to ideologies. And ideologies are dangerous. They are created by others, and will never fully fit [you will be doing yourself harm if you attempt to make them fit]. Your inability to change from your true self to fit the mold you want won’t sit right, and often makes you even more unhappy.

    My advice: go slow, make choices deliberately, and avoid those who judge you based on your ability to fit into a certain group. Be you.

  43. May 23, 2011

    Katherine

    Love this. I’m a big fan of Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project who has a rule: “Be Gretchen.” It means know your personality, your talents, and what’s important to you and focus on that, not what other people are up to or how they move through their lives. It’s incredibly freeing to be at a point in life where you know enough about yourself and you priorities and you can focus, instead of getting distracted by what other people are doing, or what they say you “should” do.

  44. May 23, 2011

    Charlotte

    Allow me, this one time (or maybe more than this one time) to agree with you. Labels confuse me and when I have had the misfortune of being categorized I lived in terror of being thought less of the moment I broke their ‘precious’ rules. As I have a tendency to break the rules, usually always, it became a wee bit stressful living up to other peoples ideals and expectations of who and what I should be.
    I’m not very good at walking in straight lines or zigzags and I like it like this. :D

  45. Thanks Chris!! Lots of similar messages flying my way these days.

    Fits in perfectly with my “daily-not-daily” principles.

    Be well

  46. Great article! And very timely for me. When I transitioned to a Vegan diet a few months ago, I couldn’t (and still can’t) wrap my mind around the idea of honey not being Vegan. Yeah, I know it comes from animals, and you’re “exploiting” them by stealing their honey but, it didn’t make sense to me. I thought it was a little wonky. I tried asking several Vegan people on Facebook to explain it to me, and they just continued repeating the “propaganda” without really ever explaining why or how it was exploitation or whatnot. Eventually the conversation turned into an endless argument instead of trying to explain something, and I just accepted that if I wanted to label myself as a Vegan, I couldn’t eat honey. And I didn’t.

    But then, as time went on and I started to understand why I wanted to be Vegan, I realized that I wasn’t really against killing animals for meat, I was against factory farming and animal cruelty. I could possibly avoid both those things without needing to be Vegan, so long as I am able to source my meat/dairy from local places which I am able to see the living conditions for myself, and that’s what I’ve decided is best for me. No labels, no one telling me what to do.

  47. When I was a child, my mother periodically told me that “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Many times I’d ask her to explain why; she never was able to satisfy my confusion. I made the decision as a young person that, since clearly that statement didn’t make sense, I would always aim for having my cake AND eating it. It’s been a lifelong principle, and has stood me in good stead.

    It’s much the same as saying a given choice is “either/or” instead of “both/and”. Seems to me that life is much more complex and interesting than that.

  48. This post made me smile. Twice. About a million years ago I went to a very liberal college. My oh-so-stifled self thought I had finally found a place where I could be myself. No one would tell me I had to where pink izod shirts and bows in my hair. But I quickly realized that instead of that old uniform I’d sloughed off in high school, now there was a new one: birkenstocks and tie-dyed shirts. The unwritten code was almost as strict as the one I’d left behind.
    I also like the idea of joining my own club and upping the participation to 100%. That’s just great.

  49. May 23, 2011

    Beatriz

    Okay, I’m going off the heavy duty comments and going on some succulent cake binging! Simplify…

  50. There’s Forrest Gump running down the road with hundreds of followers running behind him.

    “Wait, he’s going to say something.”

    “I’m tired. I’m going home.”

  51. May 23, 2011

    Beatriz

    LOVE THAT POST, and the many quotes from Forrest Gump that hold true.
    Thanks Robert Gisel. “Life IS like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get”
    I do NOT like creme-filled, so I search for the solid chocolates, but right now Im doin’ the cakething

  52. I think that labels can set us up to feel bad about ourselves when we realize that the ‘club’ we joined isn’t really us.

    I agree that we should all start our own movements…but for ourselves..not for people to follow.

    I’m my own woman’s movement, and I am very pro-cake.

    J.

  53. Actually, you CAN have your cake and eat it, too. (After which you have no more cake.)
    What you can’t do is eat your cake and HAVE it, too.

  54. Your post reminds me of my college roommate who once told me she wasn’t “a carrot … she didn’t hang out in bunches.”
    Love it!

  55. Such a great post. It seems like if you choose a label, and then decide to reinvent yourself or change your mind, you’re labeled a sellout or some such silly term. The best label to wear is “without labels.”

  56. Chris, you have a great way of getting to the heart of a matter. Its time to take a stand against all society labels, lets call it the….just kidding.

    But I do think I hear your phone ringing, its the PRO-CAKE COMMUNITY calling and they want to interview you for their upcoming fundraiser. :-)

  57. May 23, 2011

    Martina

    I’ve been following your blog since I bought your book last Dec. It really seemed to be up my alley and has inspired me. Although I’m a SAHM of three I can’t travel as easily , I’m utilizing my past experiences and talents to create an entity to help me to give back to others. Part of my entity of being free spirited and being my own boss allows me creative freedom. Through use of my photographs or card ministry to the troops and others who give so much of themselves. My goal of living with less , including labels is a work in progress with 3 kids. It takes only one to make a difference and I would like to be a “one” doing what I can working within my means. I’ve already brainstormed ideas that will help with this mission. I can help even if I’m stuck where I am at the moment.

  58. Labels in theory are a great construct because they help identify similarities. It’s when the label becomes restricting – a box you put people in with no hope of escape – instead of a mere mention of some current aspect of a person that it becomes troublesome.

    Unfortunately, most use labels as air-tight boxes rather than platforms of growth and self discovery.

    Which is why we’re all so happy to escape high school. Our classmates have spent 3 or 4 years labeling us and we are ready to break the bonds and start exploring our selves more.

    Unfortunately these days I can’t seem to figure out what club I want to join…

  59. Labels are not always bad. Without them, the contents of the tins on the supermarket shelf are a mystery.

  60. I have struggled against labels since I was a very young child. I hated the term “shy” for instance. To me that meant someone who was afraid of people, to the point of avoiding any social situation & this wan’t me. I was quiet, maybe, when I wanted to observe (a necessary skill for artists, writers & thinkers of any kind) & according to my parents, stubborn & argumentative when I thought some injustice was being done. I wasn’t any of these things all the time, but I hated the “shy” label placed on me by some, it didn’t fit at all. To me, it was easier for them to stick a label on something & be done with it, rather than spending the time to truly understand, like once a label was placed, problems were solved & issues disappeared. “Stubborn” & “argumentative” were ways to stop listening, as well. Once these labels were placed, issues could be dismissed. This can be frustrating & limiting.
    Thank you for expressing so well how limiting & even unnecessary most labels can be.

  61. What a wonderful piece. To claim our own authentic voice: the challenge of a lifetime. Thank you for this.

  62. We ALL use labels when we introduce someone. How often do you hear, “This is Bob and he is a man living on this planet”.
    Some labels make you feel good….Grandma, Mom, Great Friend, Good Samaritan etc. Obviously we don’t always agree with the labels, others might place on us, such as when you were labeled a minimalist. Do you feel the same way being referred to as a “non-conformist”? Personally, I would not consider you a full-fledged non-conformist. Maybe just a partial one. A full-fledged non-conformist becomes successful without following the social norm of attending college. Now, some may label me as a critic! (lol)

  63. I liked this post. I couldn’t agree with you more. I don’t have much to really add to it, just wanted to you to know that I really liked it.

  64. I keep thinking of a Walt Whitman quote: Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”

    I might claim to be a “Whitmanist” as a way to say I don’t fit in anyone’s little boxes.

    Sometimes, instead of rejecting a label, I qualify it by adding its opposite or something that stands it on its head. “A really outgoing introvert.”

    Working in a field where educational attainments — or at least the letters after your name — matter, I like to play with initials. Alice Alt, B.A. M.A., University of Alabama. Jane Smith, E.L.S. (ELS = Expert on Lots of Stuff.)

  65. I’ve recently discovered marketing, and marketing and labels are of course closely coupled. So I’m very cautious about rejecting labels. Imagine finding a little box in the supermarket, beautifully crafted, but with no label on it. What would you do with it? How would you know if it was reasonably priced?

    Or imagine going to an exhibition, and find a stall with a seller calling, “Come closer, ladies and gentlemen, come look at my wonderful product! See what it can do for you! Come see for yourself! Explore this wonderful product. It can help you with something!”

    Even a clear bottle containing a clear liquid needs a label, because it could contain either water or vodka, and anybody expecting something the one and found the other would be disgusted and disappointed.

    If you don’t label yourself, other people are sure to do it for you, and then you’ll have to deal with the fact that newcomers will read your label and either not see that you are what they need, or get disappointed.

    Of course there is nothing that forces you to accept a ready-made label. You have the fullest right to create your own, and reject attempts to be re-labeled.

  66. A friend introduced me to the Zeitgeist movies over the weekend. Can’t tell you how interesting they were (you can watch online for free and you are *encouraged* to copy and distribute them). Everyone should watch them – whether you believe all, most, or none of what they say there is a lot of food for thought.

    I buy a hole lot of what the Zeitgeist movies advocate. Most of it in fact. But definitely not everything. Its one set of opinions about the world among 7 billion others (to one extent or another).

    I also went to a “New Earth Creationist” seminar. I reject most (but not all) of what they say, but there was food for thought there as well.

    Funny this post should appear today. I too take from various “groups” what resonates with me. I am my own personal hybrid and very aware of joining any faction. Case in point – I don’t even want to join the faction that vehemently rejects labels or joining factions.

    It can feel a little lonely to be a tribe of one, but at least you have independent thought and action, influenced but not dictated by any radical notions or groups. That has to be a good thing right?

  67. I am a big eater of cake!!

    Great post Chris, it’s so true people expect you to behave in certain ways then get worried or shocked when you do something different. We are all our own masters and absolutely have the freedom to choose what ever life we want. It can be a little scary sometimes going against the norm but that makes it all the more fun :o)

  68. I’ve always taught people that one of the most powerful phrases that a human can every speak is, “I am Me!”. When you can say that happily with a smile on your face you are fully alive and owning your life. Everyone can say it but only you know what it means!

  69. This blog post came at a GREAT time for me. I’ve been very frustrated lately with people thinking I’m not following closely enough the rules of the labels they’ve given me. It’s a struggle. I had to tell one of my friends, “YOU gave me that label. You assumed. I never said I had any label.”

  70. Ellen Langer writes in Mindfullness…
    prejudice decreases as discrimination increases.

    the unique thumbprint can only be placed in a box of one. trying to capture the essence of a box of one, is like trying to hold onto jello. hard to be prejudice against something you can’t define.

    when those undefined’s come together to do something they can’t do alone, as simply – us… how cool is that? could the exponentiality of adjacent possibilities created therein be the freedom we all seek? the freedom to be…

    thank you all for sharing your thoughts.

  71. I would like to add… labels are just judgements, and we can all do without those.

  72. I like it Chris.

    The hard part is remembering others won’t listen to this. They’ll label us all in one way or another.

    I often hear people say how much I don’t fit into their paradigm. The way I talk, think, and act doesn’t seem to fit with their boxes. It can be bothersome, always having to ignore labels, but I find it’s part of what makes life so great!

  73. I quit my job last week, and I’m moving across the country. My wife and I don’t call ourselves “minimalists” either, but we’re fitting all our possessions in a 5′ x 8′ Uhaul trailer.

  74. When you put it like that it is so simple and obvious, but it needed saying. I’ve been struggling with labels for a while – ultimately I want to be myself, clearly that is what I need to do!

  75. One of the most liberating things we can do is learn the magic of RELEASE – not hoarding stuff like books and clothes and all. Moving often helps. Traveling often helps. Giving things away is cathartic.
    “That which you cannot let go of possesses you.”

  76. Pingback: Trackback from Hereafter College

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