Taking Flight with the Right Label
Labeling is one of the first things we do as babies. Our brain associates certain objects with words. We label the iconic red-round-sweet fruit as an apple. And after that it will be hard to think of it as anything other than an apple. Once we have enough associations stored in our memory, we begin to develop language. We start with one word. Then we move to a two-word sentence and so on. At some point in our lives, we begin to develop our sense of self. As young adults we seek to develop our identity by labeling what we like and don’t like, if we are a morning person or a night owl. This becomes more complex in our teenage years when we seek to both fit in and explore. As we grow up we try to understand ourselves better, seek outside approval and constantly label ourselves to construct our personalities. Much of this happens by reacting to different situations.
If you throw some labels, interactions, and reflections into the personality soup, what you end up with is your perceived experience. After some schooling—we become young adults with our pool of labels and their attached emotions: ready to do more of what we think works well and what doesn’t. The distinction is that a lot of what happened growing up was reactive rather than proactive. Instead of dreading the labels that do not resonate with ourselves, we can now choose the labels that we want.
Can you think of one of your self-made labels? Are you a summer person or a winter person? Are you good with numbers? Are you artsy? Are you easily irritated? Are you a fun person? Do you like pickles? Labels make up our identity. The funny thing is that I am (and I can be) whatever I decide to be. When going out to dinner with friends, sometimes they kindly ask me if I am a vegetarian, or if I have any dietary restrictions. The answer, or should I say, my label is always—I like everything. And I do. Think about this for a moment: every powerful label you have ever decided to attach to yourself is self-fulfilling. Somehow in 4th grade I decided that I was going to like math. This label transformed my life: I practiced it, I enjoyed it, I got good at it and eventually became an engineer. It just so happens that all I have labeled myself to be good at has led to engagement and development. And the opposite is also true.
So what can we do with our labels? We have the power to label ourselves to like things that we think we don’t like and to express our passion for interests we might have not yet considered. There is an abundance to be discovered! In Jalisco, Mexico there is a beverage made from fermented corn called Tejuino. Tejuino is one of those beverages that I have found people to either love or hate; apparently no in-betweens. It is not that visually appealing and the beverage has a texture to it. And yet—it is an ancient beverage that dates back to the Aztecs! It comes from the Nahuatl word Teocinte which according to the Real Academia Española comes from the Aztec words for God and dried corn. This is not just any beverage. This is a living legacy of what ancient Aztecs thought of as divine food. Tejuino is served cold with a lot of fresh lime juice, sea salt, and topped with artisan lime ice cream. When we label ourselves correctly, we feel empowered to try new things: situations that make you grow (not limit you). What label would you say will prevail? The unappealing visual of the Tejuino or its ancestral legacy? Your perceived experience will depend on this initial judgment.
Much of the world is yet to be discovered if we choose to label ourselves differently. If you decide to like something, you will most likely expose yourself to it, practice it, enjoy it, get better at it, and open an abundance of possibilities. Change your labels so that they enable you to perceive situations more clearly and feel better about them: going outside your comfort zone is usually a matter of labeling it positively. Taking flight is all about choosing an empowering label.
Juan F. Diaz
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