The labels I so meticulously applied to myself are peeling off. I’m not talking about those ubiquitous ‘Hello My Name is…’ labels you get at conferences and meetings. No, I’m talking about the ones I used to define who I was during my adolescence and beyond. Clearly stated in black and white with large bolded font I held these out in front of me so people would ‘get’ me. They would know where to place me in the scheme of things. I would know where I fit…if I fit.

Loner, writer, creative spirit, deep thinker…a fan of all things dark and morbid including the works of Sylvia Plath. A pre-goth Goth. That’s how I defined myself.

But then a weird thing happened. As I moved through the years, I found that those labels really didn’t fit me anymore. Maybe they never did.

I love to laugh, I love to make people laugh. Where did that fit in with my file of available labels? It didn’t. I need and want people in my life…another shocker. I’m not really a loner? Who knew? I’m a survivor and oddly enough an optimist. (Maybe the two are inextricably entwined.)  If you had asked me at age 20 if that was the case I would have fervently denied it – too busy being dark and morose.

I have spent a lot of my life running from my fears, letting them dictate the choices I have made. I have lost important opportunities because I was afraid to walk an unknown path. Lack of confidence in my abilities, my competencies, kept the voice in my head busy pumping out negative, undermining messages. My own Greek chorus of nay-sayers. What is the opposite of affirmation? I’ve experienced it first-hand.

The fact that life is not black and white, that it is mostly a study in grey was difficult for me to accept.  That meant uncertainty, insecurity  and that fed directly into my fears. I wanted to know for sure how things would turn out, like reading the ending of a mystery so that there are no unpleasant surprises. Ultimately I wanted a guarantee. Preferably in writing…

I never really met the criteria of society’s accepted roles. I love science and the arts, love figuring out mechanical/techie stuff, don’t ask for directions, rarely read user manuals, never daydreamed as a little girl of my wedding day…

I could go on and on about the seeming incongruities that coexist within my psyche. If I picture myself as a child’s drawing I see that I did not color within the lines. I still don’t.

Sometimes while talking with my childhood acquaintances,  I felt a deep separation between my interests and theirs. I am not talking sexuality here or gender roles, just about one little girl desperately trying to understand why she didn’t quite fit in, didn’t meet the norm of what she saw on TV or read or heard about from other children. The unfortunate but not unexpected consequence was my arrival at the reasoning that there was something wrong with me.

Labels may be an essential part of growing up as we search for an identity, deciding who we are and who we want to become . The downside of course is when people let the definitions imposed by those early labels constrain their growth as human beings. Hopefully as we mature they no longer fit, their simplistic one-dimensional messages chafe. We are able to let them peel off or choose to peel them off ourselves.

Unfortunately for some, this is a threatening idea, that people do not fit into tidy boxes. They feel life would be so much easier, so much more predictable if people would only just color within the lines. There seem to be a lot of these zealots in our country today and they are increasingly vocal. Theirs is a message of hate, discrimination and prejudice. We can not let them be the only voices being heard.

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