The world insists on labels. We want diagnoses, titles, and compartmentalized descriptions of our personality. Jock, nerd, cheerleader, and misfit are not only the labels of high school. In adulthood, we merely mature into new designators like entrepreneur, soccer mom, innovator, and executive. We label ourselves by our faith tradition and our race, by our geography and our profession. We also cling to more personal assignments like extrovert, thought leader, spiritualist, and visionary. Then there is the endless line of diagnoses we hope to avoid: anxiety, diabetes, autism, heart disease, cancer, and more.
Why do we do this? As in all things Darwinian, we use labels to order our world and make sense of it. Classification is the root of language and knowledge. It enables us to quickly assess our surroundings and survive, both literally and metaphorically.
Labels are helpful, except when they aren’t.
But the label did not fit quite right, like a too narrow pair of pumps that are just so pretty you buy and wear them despite the blisters that show up.
What if your label doesn’t fit you? Or if—like me—you have too many labels to make sense of it. Christian, wife, mother, adoptive mother, author, counselor, executive, activist, servant capitalist, and professor are just a few of mine—not to mention the less formal descriptors of cook, laundress, advocate, and cheerleader for the family.
As I bring my book Get Money Do Good to market, I have been challenged to choose my label—to stay my lane and check my box. In the marketing world, you must know your avatar and understand your niche audience to whom you will market and sell your book. One marketer corrected me for missing the obvious box where I could so naturally sell my book. But the label did not fit quite right, like a too narrow pair of pumps that are just so pretty you buy and wear them despite the blisters that show up.
This idea got me thinking:
As we attempt live up to our labels, what might we be missing?
The chance to outgrow our branding? Opportunities to leave some of the labels behind? The confidence to try on a new role? Or maybe even our self-actualized identity?
Data proves that niche marketing works in sales results, but our lives are much more complex in the real world. The complexity makes us uncomfortable, of course, but that is how we grow as people to understand what matters most and pursue goals that seem beyond us.
If we know and follow what we care about—rather than others’ expectations–our stories become so vibrant, surprising, and daring that instead of habituating only one category we check all the boxes on our way to legacy.
Refusing to stay in a box might not sell as many books and products, but it certainly makes for a full life.
What are some of your labels? Do they fit? Let’s start a conversation.
Drs. Garry and Jodi Vermaas