I have a hard time owning some things about myself. I’m middle-aged (something you can define when you’re 25, but find unbelievable difficult to place when you’re 45), I’m balding (ugh…curse you, Bradley Cooper, and your head of hair!), I’m relatively short (but at 5’9” I’m as tall as Tom Cruise, so there’s that!), and I’m a runner.
While I can’t do a thing about the first three, the last thing on that list is something over which I have full control. I’m a runner because I run. That’s it.
This winter was very tough for me; I’m not going to lie. The cold winter months do not suit my constitution, and running on a treadmill just reminds me of the stress test I recently took because I’m, well, middle-aged.
While I agree with those who might argue that any label you allow yourself to be saddled with may not be the best idea, sometimes claiming one or a few just might keep us grounded in a way that having no defining terms about ourselves cannot. Sometimes labels can direct us toward a purpose or a desire we might have to accomplish a thing.
When I think about the fact that I’m a runner, I realize that, first of all, it’s a label that I’ve chosen, not because I’m a particularly great runner, but because it defines a part of who I am, albeit a very small part.
I’m a runner not because I run but because I say I am. Then I have to go about living into all of what that label means to me. Sometimes I get into a slump, and I don’t run for a while. That happens to some runners, sometimes. But even if it didn’t, it happens to me, and I’m still a runner.
Carolyn See wrote one of my favorite books on writing I’ve ever read. Making A Literary Life is a wonderful love letter of a book to aspiring writers in which she talks about what it means to be a writer and live a writer’s life. The most obvious thing you must do if you want to be a writer, she points out, is of course, to write! But, it’s also more than that. Being a writer is also about living into what you think a writer’s life looks like to you. She encourages her students to try on the part of a writer. Dress the part. Think you are a real writer and then write! Write with daring and panache as if everyone in the world cannot wait for you to type another brilliant sentence the way only you can.
Now, I may be coming across as if I’m saying that you can label yourself whatever you want and you don’t have to do anything else. That could not be further from the truth. If you’re a runner, then you run, because that’s what runners do.
What I am saying is, only you get to claim the labels that define you, and only you decide what the rules are for claiming that label. Labels can be a good thing, but only when we claim them as our own. By calling myself a writer, I am compelled to write. When I put it out there that I’m an actor, I’m compelled to continue to do the best work I can in my chosen career field. When I refer to myself as a runner, I’m moved to lace up my Brooks Pure Flows and proceed to the day’s route (with shorts and a shirt, of course…no one wants to see my middle-aged self in just the sneakers!).
So, in this day and age where there’s so much pressure to conform to certain labels and to be contained in certain boxes, break free of the constraints by owning who you are and what you do. Try on a label or two and then live into what that label means to you.
Then, know this…
You are so much more than you could ever define or imagine. No label you could ever come up with can match what you are worth right now, as you are. You will not be more worthy once you’ve achieved this or that. You are not “less than” until you’ve reached this goal or that milestone. Who you are right now is more than enough.
Everything else is just a label.