For a long time I’ve had the terrible habit of putting myself, and others, into boxes. Not physical boxes, but mental boxes, boxes that carry labels. Oh I’m just a techie. Or, he’s just a teller at the checkout counter. Perhaps you have done the same at some point or another in life and can relate. Recently I became acutely aware of this rather disappointing habit.
What happens when we put ourselves, or others, into boxes? I have come to understand that by labelling, by putting into boxes, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to get to know and understand each person, including ourselves, as individuals. Each of us has hopes and dreams. I believe we all have hidden and uncovered talents. I believe that labelling ourselves, and others, puts us at a distinct disadvantage in our interpersonal relationships. It doesn’t matter if we are applying this to the relationship we have with ourselves, or the casual encounter we have with the person at the checkout counter.
We can take this one step further. Have you ever had somebody introduce themselves using this as the opening part of their introduction: “I’m just a…..” Now how’s that for a label? “I’m just a….” do we even hear what comes next or do we subconsciously place that person into the insignificant or unimportant box? Can we honestly say that we take the rest of the conversation with that person seriously, or do they remain in our mental box?
Perhaps it’s time we start dismantling the boxes, removing the labels along with their negative connotations, and get to know each other as people, as individuals, and see the incredible wealth of talent in each other. We all bring something unique to the table. I firmly believe that the only way to do this is by removing our own labels first. To label is to hold onto pre-conceived ideas.
I recently victimised myself and sabotaged my own performance by placing myself in a box and assuming a label – I am a technical support engineer. I fix technical issues, that’s what I do. The challenge facing me was a training workshop for sales people. I wore my label and lived in my box, subconsciously telling myself that I would not pass the final grading let alone excel at it. I wore my label so stubbornly that other delegates put me into the same box with the same label. To my surprise I got more than just a passing grade. It surprised the course facilitators too as I had let them subconsciously accept the box I’d placed myself so firmly in. What if I had kept a more open mind going into the workshop? What if I had more readily embraced the opportunity to learn and grow in uncharted territory? Instead I trapped myself and hampered my own growth. All my own doing.
So this brings me full-circle in this article. I start with myself. I need to consciously step outside of any box I may want place myself in. I need to break down those mental labels I apply to myself. If I don’t do this I will forever hold myself back and hamper my own growth. If I don’t stop labelling myself how can I expect others to stop?
Yours in lifelong learning,