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I hate being labeled.
I think it stems from years of abuse at the hands of an older sister who found out that calling me a “Weirdo” was a sure-fire way of getting me out of her business of listening to New Kids on the Block on constant repeat. Of course, I quickly learned that being called names was an easy win to get my sister in trouble with my parents (Now who’s hangin’ tough?!). Until that one time when my parents slightly hesitated when I told them my sister had called me “Obnoxious”…
Labels are important though.
Labels tell us exactly what something is made of. Food labels give ingredients to the unknown. Cultural labels give power to the oppressed. I think what I hate most about labels is the finality of them.
Once you’re labeled, you either spend your life accepting it or fighting it. No one wants to be labeled wrong.
I’ve fought the gamut of labels my entire life. There were the ones my parents HAD to give me (like all good parents do): smart, funny, handsome, obnoxious. Then there were the ones that reflected a God-given talent: actor, musician, class clown. Each of these labels had an everlasting quality to them, a standard that I would have to live up to for the rest of my life.
However, over the holiday, my 6 year old daughter labeled me and for once in my life, I was proud of it. Before our massive meal on Thanksgiving, I dressed up to go for a run. Clad in my compression tights and 4mm drop shoes, my daughter caught sight of me as I headed for the door. Her intrigued face asked me where I was going.
“I’m headed out for a run,” I answered before she could get the question out.
With a sigh and a smile, she replied, “Of course you are!”
As her words hung there in the space between her mouth and my ears, a million thoughts raced through my mind. Really? Am I really? Do I want to be? Do I want my family to know me like this? Is this a label worth living up to? What does that mean? Am I wearing the right clothes? Do I have the right shoes? Does she know how slow I run? Or that I walk? If she knows, does my wife? And my friends? And the rest of the world? What do they think?
And just as quickly as all these questions passed, I exhaled a breath that whispered, “I don’t care what they think. I don’t care if they know. I don’t care if you walk or crawl or throw up or get dressed and not even step out of the door.” I grabbed ahold of that label and put it on myself.
I am a runner.
I’ve always enjoyed running (well, finishing a run, really) but I’ve never committed to running regularly. There were the tests in grade school that required us to run a mile around our school’s track as fast as we could and there was the occasional sprint to the dorms in college to beat out the curfew (yes, curfew) but it wasn’t until last year did I ever give running a significant thought. Over the last 12 months, I’ve run more than I have my entire life up to this point combined. But I’ve realized that I’ve slowly evolved into being a true runner.
I make decisions as a runner. What time would a runner get up in the morning? (Early.) What would a runner eat for a snack? (Healthy.) What stickers would a runner have on his car? (Trick question because my wife has declare our car as a sticker-free zone.) I plan time for running. I make running goals. I even have included running in my New Year’s Resolution.
I am a runner. It’s a label I’m finally proud of. And one I’m happy to carry for the rest of my life.
QUESTION: What label(s) do you have that you are proud of? Start out with the words “I am …” and fill in the blank. Let us know in the comment section below.
Sam Hoover (@sam_hoover) is a contributing writer for Dad Matters and the Digital Talent Recruiter for Focus on the Family.
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