You are not a label: how to finally shed stereotypes and find your true self

It wasn’t until I was fresh out of college that I felt lost and in search of my true identity. So often our generation lives off of labels and easily categorized groups. If you don’t fit into any, then it feels like society thinks there is something wrong with you. Even in college, they teach you the importance of having a pre-planned descriptive sentence that fully explains the essence of who you are. You’re a college student, you’re a communications major, you’re an intern, or whatever label you can come up with for yourself. If you take yourself out of all of these categories, it can be hard to find what truly defines you.

Labels seem to follow us through life, but sometimes we let them. As millennials we seem to embrace labels more than we should, sometimes even labeling ourselves. In high school, there were so many social groups and cliques. You were either popular, or an athlete, a partier, a teacher’s pet, or artistic. If you weren’t extreme in any direction you were simply an outcast. No matter what, everyone found a way to label you.

College sounds like a fresh start, but it’s more of a rebranding. We attach ourselves to a specific major, join a club or two, and maybe even get a part time job at Starbucks so you can label yourself a ‘barista’. In college they teach you that that is a good thing. They call it an elevator pitch: a concise explanation of who you are, what you’re about, and what talents or experience you bring to the table. You learn that employers are busy and if you want a job you better know who you are and not waste their time. Heaven forbid it takes more than one sentence to explain to a stranger who you are as a person.

Now let’s say you land your dream job. You buy a house in the suburbs. Maybe you get married and have a couple kids. You might even consider joining a church and volunteering in your community. You have everything, and yet you still don’t know exactly who you are because you realize that all the labels are true. You are a housewife and a soccer mom. You work a 9 to 5 job and embrace your upper middle class lifestyle. All of those labels may be the perfect description of who you are, but I’m here to tell you that you are so much more than that.

You are more than a single word. You are more than a label. You are more than an easily defined stereotype. You are an individual and you are unique and special in your own way. These labels are not your identity.

Because when all the labels are stripped away, when you lose your job, when you get divorced, when you move to a new city and don’t know anyone, you may feel like you lost who you are. You have to do some serious soul searching when every label gets stripped away from you. Finding your identity without labeling yourself is a very important thing to do at any age, but especially while you’re in your twenties and still figuring life out. Finding your true self comes from many different things. Maybe you’re someone who goes against societal norms and challenges the status quo. Maybe you’re super passionate about politics or the environment. That does not make you a politician or an environmentalist. So who are you?

Not one thing needs to define who you are, but a perfect mixture of everything you love creates a unique and special you. Find things you are passionate about, do what you love, and enjoy every moment, but don’t let any one thing define you.