Identity and Labels

How do you identify yourself?

There was an interesting conversation on Nathan's of Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent blog yesterday about writing as an identity. Long story short, when writing becomes your oxygen, when publishing becomes your all consuming need, when writing becomes your identity, you let it define who you are. And that's a scary thing - because it becomes a consuming passion to the detriment of all else and people lose their objectivity to the point of blaming everyone but themselves, when they are rejected or criticized or fail to publish.

He had 392 comments, many people taking umbrage with his comments, people who seem to be able to only identify themselves as "Writers."

What is identity? As defined - The distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persisting entity; individuality. Do you identify yourself by what you do or who you are?

I've been thinking about this for the past couple weeks and Nathan's post sparked a few more gray matter cells. Thoughts about "at what point do you call yourself a writer?" When you start writing, when you are published, when you are recognized by your peers. When? I don't call myself a writer just because I write. I don't call myself an accountant just because I do bookkeeping and do all the taxes for our business. I don't call myself a teacher just because I home school our son. I don't call myself a blogger just because I have a blog. These are things I do. Do they define me - I don't think so. Life is my oxygen.

Are you defined by your career. When you define yourself as a job, hobby or whatever, you are labeling yourself. Each person is unique - an individual, shaped by life experiences. If you feel the need to label yourself, then you are limiting yourself according to that label.

What does the label of lawyer mean to you. To me, when someone comes into my shop and has to introduce himself as a lawyer, my first thought is why does he feel the need to let me know that. The 2nd thought - semantics. I end up arguing over semantics every time. And that's what seemed to be going on with the comments at Nathan's. They were arguing over semantics and losing the bigger picture.

I hate labels with a passion. Labels are restrictive and cause you to look beyond the person at a thing. You fail to see the unique person in front of you and limit not only your thinking about them, but the person themselves. The "thing" whatever it may be - a job, a hobby, a handicap or learning disability.

Take for example the boy who may be a gifted genius. "Hi, this is Bobbie. He's a genius." In that instant, this label makes people expect a lot out of this boy. He has a lot to live up to the label.

"Hi, this is Horace, he has a learning disability." In that instant, the label causes folks to instantly expect less from this child and treat him differently. The child knows this because he has been told over and over again. So he uses it as an excuse. "I have such and such, I can't because..." He doesn't try to rise above it, because he isn't allowed to. It isn't expected of him, so why should he try. It becomes his identity.

I don't allow labels in our house and never will. It all leads back to our identity. Who we are.

Are our identities wrapped up in recognition for what we do or who we are as a person. Or is it a short cut to reduce a conversation, the explanations, the small talk that some abhor. Take away the labels and who are you? Think about it.

"Hi, I'm Robin - Nice to meet you. So tell me about yourself." The question starts a conversation and either makes you cringe or light up depending on whether you like talking about you and what you do.

Wrapping back around to the main point, the question I posed on Nathan's post:

Take away the writing and who are you?


  1. I wrote a rather heated (in my opinion) response to him. Although I'd like to take this opportunity to quote Kipling " If you can dream...and not make dreams your master"

    I think that speaks volumes.

  2. Apparently Nathan's article caused quite a stir in the blogosphere today. Yours is the second post today I've read in response to it! But I like how you've summarized it, Robin. While we may "do" many things, should we let those things define who we are? That's a great question. Or should we let the person we "are" define us? I am a mother, daughter, child of God, etc.? Deep thoughts to ponder!


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