by Paula on July 24, 2013

We all walk round with lots of invisible labels on us relating to what we do, what we believe, how we look, what interests us. People are quick to apply labels to other people but find it less easy to use these labels on themselves.

I’ve been thinking about why that is.


Since Easter I have been doing a bit of running. I am not particularly fast, I don’t go long distances & I often stop & walk for a little bit. The other day someone referred to me as a “runner” and I rejected that claim. To them I was simply a runner because I run. To me I felt that accepting that label was accepting honour and praise where I felt none was due.

To other people, Runner = Someone who runs

To me, Runner = Someone who runs fast and far and enters marathons and sprints and does well!

The thought of saying “I am a runner” makes me feel someone would laugh at what I actually do in comparison to this description in my head of what a runner is.


While commenting on this Chris Budd mentioned that people refer to him as a musician and yet he struggles to accept that. To me looking at him, he plays guitar, he writes music, he plays in a couple of bands & even sings occasionally. To me he is a musician. Yet perhaps to him he looks at musical heroes and feels similar in that the label is too prestigious for him to accept without feeling the need to explain himself.

When we are children we would very simply understand that a runner is someone who runs and a musician is someone who plays an instrument. When and why did we attach all the other stuff to the labels and is it all of us or is it related to self-esteem?


I remember when I was pregnant with my son. I felt quite alone as none of my friends were parents yet and the label “Mother” conjured up an image of a person that I didn’t feel I was and wasn’t sure I wanted to be! As it was I soon meet a couple of very dear friends who also felt totally out of place under the label of Mother and we happily shared the journey and made our own new set of rules for what a Mother would be.


The biggest label that hangs over my head at the moment is Part-Time. I am a competent Operations and Project Manager. I have always been held in high regard wherever I’ve worked both permanent and freelance work. I care passionately about doing a good job and have great references. However, I could be the perfect match for a role in a company yet the fact I am only available “Part-time” puts me straight into the “She doesn’t care about her career, it’s just a hobby for her, she won’t be reliable, she won’t have a brain” category.

The label I see is “Able to get a higher calibre individual for the same money by taking on someone for less hours, highly committed due to offered flexibility, hard worker as dedicated to proving herself, clear-headed about what’s possible”

I used to apologise for the fact I could only do part-time but my thoughts on the labels are making me say No. I am part-time, I am committed to my career and my family equally, I am a good person, and he or she who sees the quality in this is just around the corner.

Oh, and I’m a runner too :-)


NB. I am currently happily working as a freelance manager & trainer yet will always have my eye on the job market waiting for the swing away from 37.5 hours being a “whole” job and a move towards fitting roles round the person & their contribution to the company.




Das_Beard July 24, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Human males often refer to themselves as men, when they very often nothing of the sort. In my opinion it’s one of the most abused labels.

Paula July 25, 2013 at 10:32 am

:-) The phrase “What maketh a man?” springs to mind.

Thanks for reading.

Phil Collard July 24, 2013 at 11:31 am

I agree, Paula.

One other thing I would throw into the mix is that if, say, I introduce myself as a cyclist to a cyclist, this could be dangerous.

If my new acquaintance is a leisurely, “I ride to the shops therefore I am a cyclist” sort of person, they may get a shock within a few minutes of going for a ride with me… on the other hand, if they are a member of a local road racing group who trains to win then the shock as we set off on a bike ride would be all mine!

I tend to add some qualification, as and when the conversation allows, to point out what level I see myself at!

Paula July 24, 2013 at 11:36 am

Thanks for the reply Phil. I definitely agree that the opportunity to qualify is absolutely needed. It’s those non face-to-face situations where we don’t have that chance, that can lead people down the wrong path.

Paula White July 24, 2013 at 11:04 am

Given that this started a Twitter conversation about tags and people and I can’t explain back in 140 characters, I’m adding here :-)

Words are not just un-emotive labels with one meaning. To each person the label can mean a different thing, as explained above by my two perceptions of “part-time”. You know what it means to you but you do not know what stereotypes are being placed on you by other people (good or bad) because their understanding of the label comes from their life and experiences.

Also, the reason people like to use labels very quickly on meeting someone is so they can put them in a box and seek bonds. If I introduced myself as a runner to a runner, they would find an instant attraction and it would forge a quick bond. If however I did that to someone who hates runners and things they are self-important, exercise-bores clad in lycra, they would develop an instant distance from me that might mean we miss out on a relationship that might have been brilliant if we’d got to know each other without the instant pigeon-holing.

Hope that helps clarify :-)

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