I just read a great article in Yoga Journal called “Who Do You Think You Are”. The author Sally Kempton writes on self-perception. She describes two people in situations that sent them into an identity crisis: an athletic woman who injures herself and a man with a troubled marriage. In an instant, the image they had of themselves respectively as a yoga teacher and a husband were threatened.

It got me thinking about labels. So often we identify ourselves with what we do or who we belong to. It’s like we go through life with a label-maker, and the moment we affiliate ourselves with something, we adhere the corresponding label to our foreheads.

This isn’t to say being part of something is wrong. We are born into community; we want to belong. However, the problem comes when the label we’ve adhered to ourselves gets stuck so much so that we don’t know who we are when it’s ripped off. You’ve seen it happen: the mother who doesn’t know what to do with her time now that her kids are grown up and out of the house or the business owner who’s lost his or her way when the office closes. When temporary labels get mixed up with self-perception, things can get ugly.

I remember reading Dr. Phil’s Love Smart many years ago, and there’s a chapter on describing yourself. He says to write down who you think you are, but there’s a catch. You can’t use words like “I’m a Christian”, “I’m a teacher”, “I’m a mother”, etc.

Could you describe yourself without using titles, occupations, or positions? Give it a try. It’s tough, isn’t it?

In this day when marriages fall apart and jobs can be terminated without a notice, we must find more than man-made labels to define us. As the article points out, we must go deeper.

How does one find their true self? I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know, and I don’t think there’s an easy, step-by-step answer. It’s a lifelong quest of trying new things, spending time with people who know and love you, meditating and praying and being open to whatever life offers. Being fully self-aware is probably one of those figurative destinations where, once you’ve finally arrived, it’s time for you to go home. But it’s a worthy pursuit.

So, don’t limit yourself with labels. You’re full of so many surprises that you can’t be defined.

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