don’t label me

I don’t care what people call me, labels have the negative value of making smaller boundaries for people.
~Michael Graves

Just yesterday I was researching a topic for a client and the search led me to a personality test. I decided to take it since it had been years for this particular assessment. To my amazement the test results were very different,  and so I took it again, making sure I answered the questions as honestly as possible.  Surprise again, the results were consistent the second time. I began to read the description of the ‘type’ and as I read, I could feel my face start to scrunch up, nose crinkled, eyebrows crooked, like I had eaten a sour grape. This description is nothing like me! Ok. Maybe one or two of the statements is accurate, some of the time. But, really? Then I started to question: how in the world can a 48 question test know me? How in the world can they (whomever they are) judge me? Label me? Tell me who I am or what I do? They can’t.

confession: I use labels

I’ve taken these personality and behavioral assessments and surveys many times. Heck, I even use them in my coaching practice! No, I’m not a hypocrite. But I am very cautious about how I use them and how my clients interpret them. As an existential coach (yep, another label!), I do not like to label anyone, group people, or judge. But the reality is, we all do it to some extent. I do it because I need to somehow relate to others, understand others, and communicate with others if I am going to help them in my coaching business. Establishing common categories for preferences and behaviors is a starting point to get closer to the true individual. Often these tools are used to help us understand our own behaviors, actions, and how we relate with others and the world around us. But be ware of all of these types of assessments. They are only tools, they are not the answers, only the starting point!

caution: stereotype ahead

Too many times I hear people use their personality label like a name or a badge: I’m an ENTJ; I’m Controlling; I’m an introvert. The issue with associating ourselves so closely with these labels is that we begin to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We begin to act the way the description of our label says we should act. The other caution is that often we use them as excuses to behave a certain way and don’t take responsibility for our behaviors and actions. ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t sit around and wait for you to make a decision, I’m ‘controlling’ and I need to take action now.’ Or even using your type as an excuse to stay in a bad relationship or situation: ‘I’m an ISFJ and I always let people take advantage of me…what else can I do?’

honor your individuality

Don’t fall into the trap of becoming the label. Honor your individuality! How, you ask? Here’s how I’ve decided to take responsibility for my individuality.

1. Start with existing labels. I decided to start with myself. I listed as many ‘labels’ as I could think of that have been used to describe me. Some of them I use myself (existential, coach, anywhere worker,) others are given to me (INTJ, ENTJ, CT, Introvert, middle aged). The list grows daily. The major sources are marketing/advertising and human capital management organizations/institutions. This of course is influenced by where I spend my time. What are your sources?

2. Question each label. I ask myself, how accurate are these? Do I agree or disagree with them? Do they honor my individuality? How can I enhance the label to be more accurate? Am I reinforcing the label with my actions? Am I using the label to describe myself? This is an ongoing process. I’ve engaged a coach to help me dive a bit deeper into some of the labels. Are there any on your list that challenge you?

3. Own your individuality. My intent with this exercise is to not let a label dictate my decisions and actions. I choose to be authentic to my unique self. Before action, I ask myself one question: what is influencing me to take this action? If I am doing this because it is expected of me based on a label, I need to take responsibility to make sure it is what I really want to do as an individual and not follow the crowd of the label. Are you ready to take responsibility for reinforcing your labels?

We are all very unique individuals and we may have some things in common, but do NOT let a label define who you are. You have a responsibility to bring your uniqueness into this world. Don’t follow the label crowd. Break your labels and be uniquely you.