Why You Shouldn’t Let People Label You

Take a moment to think about the categories which you label people by inside your own mind. There are the people who are good at art, the ones who are good at public speaking, and the ones who are business savvy. Putting these labels on others aids our day-to-day lives, giving us a list of people to go to when we need help or services in specific domains. It allows us to seek advice from the right people and serves as a referral tool for when we need to provide a recommendation.

There are various benefits in labeling and categorizing others in life, however, being labelled yourself can come with its own negative aspects. You should be sensitive to what others are labeling you as in life because you can feel the effects of that label far into the future. They can set you up for failure, and can ruin first impressions. These labels can put up a barrier against opportunities which catch your interest but do not match what others perceive you to be. It is one, of many, reasons why changing careers is difficult to pull off. Breaking down the walls of your labels is more difficult than establishing them in the first place.

This article hopes to give birth to a sensitivity of being stuck with certain labels in life. 

Stuck in a Label

One of the major risks in being labelled as skilled in a particular aspect of life is that you are not able to control when that label is valid and when it is dormant. This lack of control means you cannot willingly put a stop to being identified as something you don’t want to be identified as. You may have experienced this with the childhood stories that your parents told family friends, and may have been stuck in a label because of the anecdotes they’ve told.

At work, you can be labelled as the person who is a sociable leader because of your ability to steer meetings in a positive and productive direction. This label, like many others, often stems from positive intentions from the ones who label you. However, this label would force you to play the role of the sociable leader when everyone else fears doing so. When times are tough, your labels can morph into curses, as people desperately look for others to fix urgent issues around them. The labels which you once thought of as harmless compliments can grow to force you to play a role, perhaps with tremendous expectation attached.

The labels placed on you, can not only be stuck with you, but can set you up for failure. A label can manifest itself into false expectations, thereby not making you deliver on the promises that others expect you to involuntarily make.

The Unknown Potential

Say you decide to have a cigarette on your lunch break one day. Smoking is seen as an unhealthy and somewhat dirty habit by some, if not most. While having your peaceful moment, someone from the office recognizes you and comes up to say hello. “I didn’t know you smoked,” they say. This label, which has been established in the mind of your colleague, is inherently neither positive or negative. However, the preconceived notions of those who hear about it can turn this label into whatever suits them best.

If a cute girl in the office also smokes, and hears about your smoking habit, she may ask if you’d mind having a partner in crime during your lunch breaks. This would be your label manifesting itself in a positive way. However, if your manager’s father died of lung cancer from years of smoking and caused them to feel tremendous grief and resentment toward the act of smoking, they may view your habit in a different light.

You cannot control how others perceive the labels put on you, so the fate of how others perceive these labels is up to chance. An argument can be made to not strive to be labelled in life, no matter how positive the label seems to be. Truth, in the minds of humans is more subjective than we like to believe, and your labels may be truly negative in the mind of another.

Some Ways to Make Labels Less Clingy:

  • Downplay others’ interpretation of your skills
  • Don’t show exuberant pride in what you’re good at / your quirks
  • Don’t let your positive history define you
  • Label your excellent performances to be lucky
  • Be humble to a point of denying others’ positive attempts to label you as talented 
  • Don’t be predictable in what you prefer to do at work

Book Recommendation:

The Design of Everyday Things



Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims in any way.