Label makers

I see my elderly neighbor—a Texan and military veteran—while we walk our dogs. “I saw your youngest the other day. You’re raising some fine, strong young men,” he commented, smiling. “Why thank you, Ed,” I said sweetly.

Good mama. I’m a good mama.

The YouTube hits keep coming, as does the media coverage, of a video I served as creative director and writer on. “We didn’t have a story until you came along,” says the executive I worked for on it. “Thanks–you were a rock star.”

Rock star. I’m a rock star.

“I’m sorry, I don’t date people I work with,” I say, looking him directly in the eye. He is waiting for me to say I’m flattered or I’m sorry, but I won’t–I didn’t ask to be hit on at work. Silence ensues. I smile and walk away. “Bitch,” I hear, under his breath.

Bitch. I am a bitch.

“The end product was good, but I find her—while diplomatic–very direct,” says a client. “She cuts to the chase. Strong coffee.”

Strong coffee. I am strong coffee.

“But limits on screen time are so yesterday,” my son says. “You’re the meanest mom.”

Meanest. I am the meanest.

“You look beautiful tonight,” he tells me. “You’re glowing. You’re mine.”

His. Yes, his.

“You’re such an airhead,” says a friend, as I search for the reading glasses atop my head.

Airhead. I am an airhead.

I tell my college pal that she is strong and will get through the latest tornado to hit her life. “You are the best friend ever,” she says.

The. Best. Friend. Ever. See?

“Chill out,” I say to my sister, flashing her a look. She doesn’t even have to speak. Her face says it all.

I get the suckiest sister award.

All of the above—or not.

It takes a strong core to remain who we each are, yet fluid, as we are buffeted by the judgments and opinions flying our way. In a 24-hour period, we can be a rock star, an airhead, a bitch, an object of desire. As women, we are so quickly and easily labeled. Society seems to like to throw archetypes at us fast and furious—shrew, mother, sage. The Handmaid’s Tale is full of them.

And yet, in the middle of this maelstrom, we are who we are. Not just one of those labels—and maybe none of them.

I wonder if Ed, the veteran with traditional values, saw me run a conference call and “boss” people around, if he’d be as friendly? Or would my label turn to “bitch”? How about if my client, who thinks I’m strong coffee, saw me well up every time I think of my eldest heading to the military? I’m betting she would think “weak tea” instead.

A recent psychological mapping test clocked me in at 100% complexity. Lots of layers and multiple facets. I was raised or maybe just genetically programmed to think—and to feel—on many levels.

We may not all clock in at that level of complexity, but most of us are more than a single dimension. We just don’t seem to be spectacularly well-versed in allowing for that in others. We judge or label based on a single interaction or a specific situation rather than allowing a full person to unfold for us. Hence, the political divide in my country right now. The mean girls dilemma generation after generation. The marriage crisis. Hell, even book club politics.

The fact that I am diplomatic but cut to the chase is the reason so many clients hire me. And why some don’t. Some desire a partner who helps them shape a message, a story, a vision. Others would prefer someone who acquiesces and is simply an extra set of hands that puts virtual pen to virtual paper. I can do both but the former makes me come alive—and is what I’ve won multiple writing and marketing awards for doing. Creating something different wins awards, but not necessarily the support of those who can’t envision where you’re taking them. “Strong coffee” is a compliment from one person, an insult from another. It all depends on your perspective.

My Keepers—yes, with a capital K—are those who allow for all of my selves, all my roles, all my rock-star qualities and sucky bitchiness and meanest mom edicts. Thank God for them. And for a strong core. Because otherwise, it would be really easy to lose myself amongst all the labels and opinions. I have Keepers at work and at home. Some live near me, others too far away.

I’m sure you have your own Keepers. Your own multiple facets. Your own chafing against labels that don’t begin to reflect the beautiful, complex person that you are. You get to define who you are. Don’t forget that. Don’t buy all the labels. They are akin to naming an elephant its trunk because that’s the only part of it you can see or feel. Naming it so doesn’t change what it is—it’s still an elephant, despite your myopia.

Keep on keepin’ on. Define yourself rather than letting others do it for you. I’ll be right next to you, albeit in my own corner of the world.






47 Comments Add yours

  1. nimslake says:

    Brilliant post! It gives me hope in the line of business I work in.😊
    I need to step back and define what I am, what I allow and not to give a shit what others think of me because they don’t know the “true” me and I didn’t give in to their plan.

    Nims (happy reading in today)

  2. KM Huber says:

    This post has stayed with me, as do so many of yours. It’s the labels, of course, the constant peeling and pasting of them, which brings me to my Keepers, and that’s a good thing. I’m not sure we can look too frequently. Thanks, Kristine!

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank YOU. Good to see you back, writing, reading and adding your wisdom:).

  3. This is certainly something to think about in order to stay grounded in life. Thanks for sharing.

    1. candidkay says:

      And thank you for visiting/commenting. Glad this one struck you!

  4. kaleidoscopethisweek says:

    Perhaps a point that everyone know deep down and tell themselves once in a while, but nonetheless very well put. It is unfortunately very easy when we loose touch with our sense of self identity and then have to rely on others to define it for us – after all, isn’t that the basis for the manifestation of our self-identity? Another person’s smile makes you more confident, another person ignoring you on the street sometimes leaves a sense of nonrecognition. I think in those times of confusion about who we are it is important to recognise that the way others respond to us is simply a snap shot of us in time, not who we can be. Smiling at the by passer who doesn’t glance your way could get you a smile in return. So I think it’s a matter of sticking to principles you value instead of being the person who drinks the strong coffee or skinny latte.

    1. candidkay says:

      Well said. And I agree with you on the point about a snapshot in time, but I have to add-that snapshot is through their lens. They can never view us with full objectivity. Interesting how much impact we all have an each other, just by the way we observe each other. There is a quantum physics law about that-that the very fact of being observed changes the outcome.

  5. HELL YES.

    This is one of least favorite things that people insist on doing to one another — and based solely on THEIR biases and comfort level with one behavioral style or another.

    In my 20s I was labeled at one workplace as a “troublesome woman” (!) — if anyone had bothered to ask me why, they might have learned all the shit I was coping with (like a mother who kept having manic episodes overseas and ending up in jail or the hospital.) I was trained to be private and not dump my stuff on others, so I didn’t…and my frustration came out in ways that only hurt me instead.

    Recently diagnosed with (the best kind of) breast cancer, I’ve been called brave and badass…which is pleasant but felt untrue when I cried more in one month than in my entire previous life.

    1. candidkay says:

      The crying is what made you brave. Without that fear-that raw fear-it wouldn’t have been bravery :-). Hugs and blessings to you.

  6. Hurray for complexity, I say. But yes, this is a really interesting way of looking at those labels we have – and how we internalise them or don’t.

    1. candidkay says:

      And I hope most of us don’t, whether they are good or bad. I think sometimes other very wise people can help us take our own temperature, But many times what others think about us has a lot more to do with them than us. And where they are coming from :-).

  7. Roy McCarthy says:

    Do men have multiple labels Kristine? Or are we perhaps stuck with the same one until we have a sudden conversion, like Mr Scrooge?

    1. candidkay says:

      Interesting question, Roy. I don’t think women label men like men label women. But perhaps men label other men. The alpha male/jock culture thing I think can be tough on a guy. What do you think?

      1. Roy McCarthy says:

        Maybe men have fewer labels. I tend to regard other men as either ‘sound’ (Irish slang for ‘genuine’) or ‘dicks’. Not much in between which makes life easy 🙂

      2. candidkay says:

        😂 that definitely keeps life simple😉

  8. Fantastic piece! It’s amazing how complex we can be. Most fun when we are able to own and appreciate all our facets. The next time I connect with some family members, they’re going to be quite surprised to discover I’ve changed quite a bit over the past few years. And one in particular is going to have a hard time with my new personal boundaries.

    1. candidkay says:

      Ah, yes. Family and boundaries. Seems like those who are raised to love us best should be able to. A mystery to me why those people have a harder time than anyone accepting a change in a family member. I know you will stay strong and I know the changes in you have been positive, from your blog.

  9. I LOVE THIS! I am also so happy I read it because I am dealing with the fallout right now from an afternoon spent with my friends who took it upon themselves to tell me how I ‘really’ feel about things and who I am. I know myself better than I ever have and am not ashamed of what it took me to get here or what I talk/write about to help me heal. You have reminded me that I am so many things and that is okay. I don’t need to explain or defend myself to anyone, especially friends who claim to be my best friends. You keep being awesome and being you, I am going to do the same damn thing! Great post, Kay!! xo

    1. candidkay says:

      Ah, yes. It is ironic that when we are changing and growing, it is those who are supposed to love us best that often give us the most resistance. And try to define us as they have historically known us rather than as we are in that moment and going forward. Are you OK with your cast of characters possibly changing? I have my keepers, but I also have characters that seem to come in and out of my life. Some just for periods. You may be looking at a shift. Stay strong. I love all of the changes and new insights you are discovering!

      1. Thanks, Kay! That means a whole lot. Definitely working on freeing myself from them, I matter too much to allow this to continue. Thank you again, for the encouragement. 🙂

  10. G'amma-D says:

    Your words ring so true. I had many of the same labels placed on me when in the corporate world; Even when I worked for the church. I was always myself though and treated everyone with the same respect that I expected from them. Funny how they always ended up in my office when they sought solace.

    I’m looking forward to seeing that book of yours in print. I’m sure it will be great.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! For sharing a bit of your story and encouragement on the book. I completely hear you on the respect that. It is hard sometimes, when working with sharks, to not become a bit jaded. But I remind myself that integrity and honesty are things I am not willing to negotiate away.

  11. Beautifully written Kristine, you most certainly do have a gift. And those judgements from others, and ourselves, are built on one thing only, those fears that bind us and in fact are what our personalities are shaped on and create such an incredible variety of people. But once those fears are gone an openness, acceptance and empathy replaces all those judgements and peace ensues…there are no more giving or receiving of labels because you have accepted yourself for exactly as you are…all of them, and none ❤

    P.S. When for a book? And maybe about that story, your story on just how you are good at Marketing etc. It may be one of those that get brought up in those millions of conferences around the world to teach others the art of standing in their truth! ❤

    1. candidkay says:

      Very kind of you, Mark, to mention a book:). I have a draft, but who knows? The publishing world is fickle. I will be putting a toe in the water this year and will go from there . . . felt like it was begging to be written, whether to acclaim or just for me . . .

      1. Then good luck on ‘your’ journey with it. It deserves to be written. And its energy is quite strong so whether that was in its draft or the whole kebang…your on the right path for whatever reason…probably a way of expressing that truth and self love we always speak of ❤

  12. bone&silver says:

    My favourite reward about getting older definitely feels like the freedom AT LAST to be many facets and subjectivities, which I change as I need to- I want to flow through all my energies (bossy, soft, sexy, organized, lazy, creative etc etc) as and when I choose. Don’t try to contain me or restrict me to one label, including sexuality or even gender energy sometimes I say… I’m just being Me. My teenage son says #youdoyou and he’s right!

    1. candidkay says:

      You do you is certainly great advice! And I’ve heard several wise famous people say that what other people think of them is none of their business. That’s zen right there:).

  13. We are more so much more than the sum of our genes and our labels! Beautifully expressed Kristine. Some days I’m rockin it and other days I let others dictate who I am. Neither is me. But it’s a life journey to discover who is behind that thought. 💥💥💥

    1. candidkay says:

      Right! To discover the one who just is observing versus the one being labeled . . . thanks for the kind words:).

  14. Enlightening! This mystified me for years: how do novelists know how to describe a person’s character and make it ring true? And if somebody were to describe my character, what would they say? Even now, I would struggle. What am I actually like? You’ve made it clear: they would say a bunch of contradictory things, and that’s fine.

    1. candidkay says:

      With age comes wisdom:). I never used to understand the line about people’s perceptions of you having more to do with them than you. But I do now. And it’s usually true–who you are (to them) depends upon their lens . . .

  15. You do you. You’re the only one who can pull it off with such creativity and, yes, complexity.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you:). From one multi-faceted woman to another . . . I appreciate it.

  16. ViewPacific says:

    I’m with you about labels. They just don’t quite size us up anyway so I wonder why I can get so agitated when someone uses a label I don’t agree with. I’ve noticed that labels are nouns, as if they were permanent objects. I’m finding it more productive to use verbs, which are alive and changing, like we are.

    1. candidkay says:

      Wow. That’s a subtle, but huge, distinction. I’m trying that on for size–verb vs. noun–and you’re right. Alive and changing vs. a permanent branding. Thanks for the insightful comment.

      1. ViewPacific says:

        Thanks! I thought it over a little more and am experimenting with yet one more way. By starting with “right now I feel” or “right now they seem to be acting” it brings it into the present and that it’s not forever. For example “right now I’m hurting after my dentist visit yesterday and miss being without pain” instead of “I’m sick!”. Works for labels about others, too. “Right now, she seems to be feeling angry” instead of “She’s an angry person!”

      2. candidkay says:

        Such a seemingly small shift but big results, I am sure. Totally reframes the situation . . .

  17. Tourang Nazari says:

    I do love my coffee strong XOXO

    1. candidkay says:

      XOXO right back ‘atcha:). Nothing beats a good espresso!

  18. Ruth says:

    Thank you for a great post – just what I needed to read today 🙂

    1. candidkay says:

      I’m glad it hit the spot:). Keep on keepin’ on!

  19. Nice post Kay. We’re all wonderfully complex people with many facets to appreciate or ignore with simple labels.

    1. candidkay says:

      Right? Now if we can just remember that as we deal with each other day to day:). Thanks, as always, for reading and the kind comment.

      1. Yes, much easier to say than do.

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