Don’t Label Me, Bro

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, and all the ships at sea, I present to you a classic. This quote is legen – wait for it –

We are what we frequently do. – Aristotle

DARY! How do you like them apples? This is a favorite of mine ’cause I come back to it when I find myself doing a lot of something I later somewhat regret (plowing through episodes of ‘How I Met Your Mother’), or when I find myself saying I’m something that I don’t think I am (as a Biomedical Engineer, I’m not researching commercially available tissue engineered skin equivalents, I’m testing medical devices), or when I find myself saying I’m something I later realize I actually am (I’m a blogger? I’m guess I’m right…).

It starts harmlessly. You meet a friend of a friend, or start chatting up your neighbor at the cafe counter. Eventually, “Hey man, so what do you do?” blurts out. You answer the question by sharing your day job (or lying) and possibly your hobbies or whatever you do in your down-time.

It ends harmfully. Stop right there. Take a step back. Listen to yourself answering that question. Those things you just said that you do? You are those things.

Picture it this way. Take those things, turn them into job-title-looking nouns, and then list them, comma-separated, below your name on your imaginary business card. You now have a few words associated with your name, letterally supporting your nominal identification. It’s one thing to think about the things you do each day and each week, but to take those same things and turn them into labels for yourself is like transforming the question, “What did you do Wednesday night?” into, “What kind of animal are you?”

After another look at those words below your name on your imaginary business card, how do they make you feel? Do you like them? Do you want them associated with your name? I mention labels, and I hear an instant backlash of, “You don’t KNOW me! I can’t be pigeon-holed into neat categories! I’m more complex than that! I’m more than that!” I’m sure you are. I’m sure you’re a great listener, a loyal friend, a fun-loving step-ish-mother to your fiance’s kid who you see every other weekend. But would you say you do those things with high frequency? Would you seriously say you are those things if you met somebody? Is that how you want to be remembered (besides smelling nice – it’s Vetiver by Givency)?

Those few words… if you don’t like any of ’em, what would you rather they be? Have an idea? I guess you better do that with some frequency. I’ll be honest, it’s harsher for me to read this than it is to write this. So now that I’ve found a life vector I’m happy with, I’ve refined my ‘product’ vision, written up ScrumOfOne stories that I’m getting done, and am focusing on the following platitude, which I’m taking on as more of a platypus an attitude:

Do more and more of fewer things, but more important things, and get better and better at each of them.

Those few words… how do you like yours?

How do you like them apples?