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The Danger of Labels: How Our Stories Shape Us

I am not a runner.

Runners are identifiable even without their running gear on.  They have that lean and eager look about them.  It’s as if there’s something coursing through their bodies that’s almost visible…like they have tapped into a power source the rest of us can’t access.  Running is a drug they can’t get enough of.  Runners run because they love it, and because they run they feel great.

I am not a runner.  Never was, never will be.

Except.

I have begun a running program, and I am slowly building up the strength and endurance to run longer distances.  I’m in a veeery early phase of this new thing, so every day is a struggle to get myself out there, to gauge the pain in my back and decide if it’s too much to tackle the trail today.  Every time I lace up my shoes I think, “I’m actually doing this?  I’m not a runner!”  And then out I go.

The running itself is not easy.  Not yet anyway.  It’s easier than it would be without music in my headphones, and a computer program that includes a nice lady telling me when to jog and when to walk.  My back aches sometimes and there have been times I said “no way”, and have made deals with myself about how far I would go before stopping.  Yet I have found myself surprised each time I’m done; I am actually, yes, doing this.  I’m running.

A non-runner, running.  Huh.

When we label ourselves we willingly limit the growth opportunities available to us.   We unnecessarily close doors to unexplored terrain, simply because something in our experience led us to believe something about that terrain.  Most of these stories are old, outdated and untested.  They arise from painful incidents, or challenging times, or interactions with people whose own fears influenced their ideas about who we are and what we’re here to do.

The labels aren’t even the problem.  It’s our believing the labels, willingly wearing them and bending our lives to accommodate them, that’s the problem.  We make the untruths true by behaving as if they are, in fact, true.

Ah, that.  Yes.  Like running.  I have enviously watched friends come back from their Sunday morning jogs glistening and awake, spilling their health and vibrancy into the breakfast table conversation, and thought to myself, “if only I could, too”.  I stood at the finish line of my husband’s first half-marathon with tears in my eyes, watching the women with the pink ribbons pinned to their shirts, and wished fervently for my own victory — yet knew it would never come.

For me, I’m no longer buying the tired old story of myself as an artistic mover who prefers the dance studio to the asphalt.  I can run.  I am running.  Even if I never run a race.

Challenging your labels is an empowering practice.  No, it’s not so easy, but it’s part of playing a bigger game aligned with what’s really true for you.  Recognizing the ones that no longer fit is the first step, and one that requires courage and truth-telling.  Letting the labels go is the second.  How do we let them go?  We notice the effect the label has had and is having on our lives.  We appreciate what it has allowed us, and evaluate how it no longer serves us today.  And then we begin to behave as if the label is gone.  We try on new behaviors bit by bit.  We stretch out of our comfort zone, into new and mysterious terrain.  We learn what suits us, and what doesn’t.  In dropping the label, we open ourselves to many possibilities in its place.

What are some of the labels you wear?  When was the last time you examined them?  Do they fit the You you are becoming?

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  • Kim August 29, 2011, 12:45 pm

    Hmmm, I just told someone the other day that I was not a runner. You’ve inspired me with your story and I love the term “non-running runner.” Always keep them guessing.