Are your labels holding you back?

We all know what a label is in terms of brands and tags on objects, however are you aware of the labels you attribute to yourself?

As a Personal Development Specialist, Workshop Facilitator and practising artist I pay particular attention to the labels people live with.

Watching my son’s development at school I feel the most concern when his confidence and self-esteem wavers, particularly in subjects where subjectivity comes into play, such as art. His confidence and enjoyment of a subject can vary enormously according to who is teaching him and the feedback he receives.

It can be disheartening when a teacher describes your work as not good, particularly when it comes to a creative subject like art. Of course, there are technical skills to be learned – and proficiency in any medium be it painting, drawing, glass-making or metalwork will only come with years of practise – but creativity grows through encouragement and nurturing. I would be a wealthy woman if I had £1 for each person that tells me “I am not creative”. There are very few children who do not like creating; in fact I have never met one. It is just a limiting label that has been accepted; maybe at school one small element of art like drawing wasn’t the person’s strong point. Once you have accepted the label ‘I am not creative’ you are unlikely to go on and develop your creative skills.

In any subject, whether it’s maths, english, art or science, you often hear that a child is ‘good’ or ‘no good’ – and the label tends to stick throughout one’s life. In reality, a child may be strong in some aspects of the subject and weaker in others and their confidence in moving forward very much depends on how their teacher responds.

I remember my fantastic year 7, maths teacher whose confidence in my ability lived on beyond my schooldays. She was an open person and an expert in her subject; she was not egotistical – the lessons were all about her pupils rather than herself; she was nurturing and endeavoured to bring out the best in all her pupils; her words and actions demonstrated that she believed in me – and thankfully that had a lasting impact beyond the poor maths teachers I endured in later years.

Today the label ‘I am good at maths’ remains with me but had I not had that teacher who believed in me I may have ended up always thinking differently. English was difficult for me because I struggled with spelling, so I have had to over-come the deep-set belief that because I am a poor speller, I’m poor at English. I am still surprised when people describe me as very articulate.

We can all recall those labels that were given to us as children and which live on in us – a friend was always described by her family as ‘quiet and shy’ while her sister was labelled as ‘loud’ and a ‘show off’, they continue to be haunted and hindered by these characterisations. I often hear people like hairdressers say they are not intelligent because they were told they lacked intellect at school and yet they are without doubt skilled, creative and good with people!

Is it possible to shake off labels? The answer is yes. Write a list of your labels and discuss them with someone you trust, saying them out loud can help you recognise the impact they are having on you. Think about how they came about and consider how much they continue to affect you, are they having a positive or negative impact on you? Do you use your labels to hide behind and stay in your comfort zone? Ask yourself when and how the label affects you and pressure test it by tuning into your feelings, asking is this a label that is making me feel nervous or concerned?

Finally learn to treasure the labels that give you wings – and ditch or reduce the impact of the ones that do you harm.

Feel free to drop me a line or respond to this blog if you would like to share your experience on how labels have propelled you forward or held you back.

About the writer: Tracey specialises in coaching individuals and teams in emotional intelligence, diversity and creativity. Following a successful career in leadership roles within sales and marketing Tracey has a wealth of experience working across a diverse range of roles and sectors with managers and individuals at all levels. Tracey is a creative thinker that is able to take a holistic view to help clients formulate clear strategies and execute plans that achieve results.