I’ve been thinking a lot about boxes lately. Not physical boxes, but the metaphorical ones we fit ourselves into. Call them labels, call them boxes, call them descriptors, whatever you like; same deal, it’s about fitting to the implied meaning of a descriptive word/noun and fitting all it’s implied attributes.
This post came to mind earlier this week, or rather last week, when I joined some friends for board game night, or rather nerd night as it’s being affectionately called.
The guy who organizes the nights asked me at one point what I thought of the new Hobbit movie.
“It’s long,” I replied, because it was.
“Oh,” he said shaking his head regretfully, “I almost gave you nerd cred there.”
It had happened, someone called me out on my lack of true nerdiness – but wait let me explain just what I mean a little bit more.
This comment is part of a series in my life recently, which at first glance might not seem to connect. I had a friend comment early in January when we were skiing that I was obviously a really good athlete. The comment made me really uncomfortable, and I couldn’t figure out why (after all shouldn’t that be a compliment?).
Back in November at brunch with friends, another friend commented, “But you’ve always been really healthy” (on the topic of me being a dietitian). Again I felt really uncomfortable (and bit my tongue from curtly asking, “And what does it mean to be “really healthy”?).
Mostly these comments made me feel like a fraud, because despite the fact that yes I am “really healthy” and I am “a really good athlete” these descriptors have never been ones I’ve considered myself to be belong to. These are not boxes I felt I truly fit in; I was neither born an athlete, nor the most crazy health zealot I knew.
My athletic abilities came from being born to a family who valued sports and had the means to provide me skiing and skating lessons. My healthy habits were also learned and self taught, and often include chocolate on a daily basis (which in my mind negated all the other healthy habits I had). And I am nerd in that I enjoy sci-fi and fantasy, but I don’t necessarily go so far as to read anime, comics, or really play video games.
But mostly I always thought; I’m not enough of a nerd/an athlete/a healthy person to really fit myself into the boxes. And this means someone will call me out on it (such as at nerd night) if I do call myself a nerd, or athlete or whatever, eventually someone who epitomizes the box (the stereotypes) of these will call me out on it; well you’re not a real nerd or athlete or whatever. This is of course perfectionist thinking at it’s finest; I’m not good enough to be the stereotype, so I can’t actually be part of the box, to use to describe myself.
But on the flip side it bothered me when my friends put me into those boxes, as though they are stationary things, as though I just showed up on this planet and fit into the boxes of being an athlete or being healthy. And it all comes down to me being more athletic or more health conscious than they consider themselves.
Maybe I should just accept the compliment. Or maybe I should not worry about it. But I’m not sure I will be able to stop feeling uncomfortable when someone stamps a label on me as a compliment, nor will I ever fully enjoy self-imposed labels either. After all does it really matter if I’m a nerd, an athlete, or someone who is health conscious? Do these definitions become the be-all end-all?
I really think that while these labels do come from my actions, they aren’t necessarily what should be important in life; after all they reduce me a couple characteristics that don’t allow much wiggle room. Even self-labeling is really about how others see you or how you want others to see you. I kinda just like being me, no boxes, no perfectly-fitting-into-the-stereotype. Just me, and my random collection of interests.
What have you experienced with labels or boxes? Self-imposed (or restricted) or otherwise?