The Labels We Wear

Every day, I wear a plastic badge that hangs on a lanyard around my neck. It has a picture of me, and my name. It identifies me as an employee, labels me as a teacher who works in the building. It's not the only label I've worn. I've had to wear ones that read Guest, Event Staff, and Hi, my name is Paul. The most recent one that has hung from my neck is Divorced.

That label has led to a few more collecting around my neck--DamagedUsedLimited, Insufficient. I'm not quite sure who's responsible for slipping them over my head--other people or me.


We all wear labels. (Engineer. Architect. Nurse. Doctor. Writer. Son. Daughter. Husband. Wife. Responsible. Goofy. Procrastinator. Victim. Screw-up. Confused. Lonely. Unloved.) Some of them we have, indeed, put on ourselves. Some of them we've allowed other people to place over our heads, ruffling our hair, making our collars lopsided. Some can weigh several pounds, pull our heads down, drum against our chests with heavy thuds when we try to move.

It's tough to sort out which ones actually describe us and which don't.

I hate that the word (divorce) is part of my past, part of my story now, but perhaps it's strangely fitting because long, long ago, I swore I wouldn't wear the label of Typical.

I decided as a kid that I would never work a typical desk job. That decision has stuck with me ever since. Not only have I refused to push papers or slave away at a computer all day, I'm realizing more and more that what I'm doing now is even too typical for me. Just a few weeks ago, I was talking to somebody who said to me, "There isn't a job or job title that fits guys like us. We're going to have to create a job that doesn't yet exist."

I don't relate with people who know that they'll retire from the same position and company in thirty years.

I don't see the point in waiting until I'm sixty to enjoy life and to travel. I don't see the need to stop working when I'm sixty, either.

I don't dream of a white picket fence and a two-car garage with a Mercedes in the driveway.

I'll drive two hours if it means half an hour of meaningful interaction with a friend.

I only go jogging if there's heavy rain or a thunderstorm.

actually think that I can sustain a sense of adventure and child-like wonder no matter how old I get. I actually believe that people can grow more and more in love as time passes--and I believe that despite what the scoreboard says about my past.

I've come to accept that my story includes a few twists and turns, some detours from the well-traveled path.

I've decided to drop the dead weight of labels and identities that don't belong to me. Typical: I won't wear it. I won't wear Damaged. I won't wear Limited. I won't wear Insufficient. Not anymore.


I cut lanyard after lanyard from my neck and let them fall like dead tree limbs to the ground. I look at what's left. These are some of the ones I think I'll keep for now:

Dreamer. Adventurer. Friend. Survivor. Learning. Striving. Loved. Determined. Hopeful. 

They're much lighter to carry.

They look way better on me.