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We know that labels are for jars, and we know that we are not jars. And yet, it is an easy trap, boxing ourselves into characters or avatars, for brevity’s sake, of course. We have 140 characters, 5 minutes in the elevator, 10 minutes at a dinner party to explain ourselves, to introduce the passion that beats within our soul. To announce to the world, or whoever is in front of us, yes, yes, this is who I am. This is how I will define myself.

And still, my favorite people in life are the ones that package an element of surprise. Surely the entertainment attorney with the fast-paced lifestyle and the $350K paychecks and the house in Cabo – surely she doesn’t knit on the airplane? Surely she doesn’t call her aging grandmother every Saturday at 4, and surely she doesn’t eat grilled cheese sandwiches whilst sitting cross-legged on her kitchen counter, crumbs spilling onto her silk pajamas?

And yet, surely she does. Surely we all do, acting in ways that seem unfit for our characters. We are this and that, half something and half something else entirely, and I’ve often thought about the repercussions of defining ourselves so flippantly online. Writer, mama, scrambled egg-maker is what currently sits atop my Instagram profile, like a pitchy mockingbird resting on my shoulder. I know as well as you do that we are more.

I believe words hold power, and that we’ll never get our explanations 100% right, even if we study the English language for decades. I feel as if I’m always chasing words, trying to pin down accurate descriptions like swirling leaves on a blistering fall day, and still, it’s a chase I love. Because once collected, once stuffed into my left coat pocket, these leaves – these words – they transform. They build. They create.

They fall short.

And so, the new goal is this: I am what I am. I am what I have done in the past, and what I will do today, and what I plan to do tomorrow. I am a combination of my contradictory thoughts, my elemental surprises, my deepest character flaws.

After all, it is with the same hands that I scramble eggs, and braid hair, and type on keyboards. It is with the same mind that I dream of hiking and yurt-living, but with clean sheets and a fully stocked refrigerator, please. And it is with the same heart that I seek to live a life filled with love for my neighbor, and yet still find myself the passive aggressive toe-tapper at the local post office.

And it is with the same eyes that I look at your avatar and squint, knowing there, too, is much, much more.

  • “Surely we all do, acting in ways that seem unfit for our characters.”

    Love this, Erin — and love the unspoken challenge you’ve issued us here in the post.

    I am a creature of habit and spend a lot of my time maintaining the persona I’ve created rather than looking for new ways to redefine it.

    Pure brilliance, here.

    • Love this, Brian!: “I am a creature of habit and spend a lot of my time maintaining the persona I’ve created rather than looking for new ways to redefine it.”

      Food for thought indeed. :)

  • Every time you publish something new, Erin, you make me want to write, write, write!

    I was thinking this myself, recently, as I did my best to draft a bio that would fit the social media accounts I use (once I eventually get back to blogging) and I had an urge to buck the trend and try not to describe myself in one (often hyphened) word increments, but found it hard to fit something so fluid to one sentence structures. Sometimes we need that punchy, yet simple, description for others to get an idea of what they’ve come across.

    Still, I just can’t figure my words out. Which makes me wonder if I’ll ever figure myself out!

    • Ha, I hear you! I wonder if that’s not the goal, to figure ourselves out. I mean, it would be nice to be packaged and understood, but I wonder if we’re far too messy and if allowing more might push us to a greater capacity to love?

  • What a beautiful post! You captured this thought so beautifully. I feel the same way!

    My favorite part of online is getting to know a person offline. Lik, for example, the moment when you see an online friend reach out IRL not just her hand but her whole heart and soul to help the homeless. And you see concern, compassion, and the action of love that she probably doesn’t know envelopes her and thus could never include in her character-limited bio. And you’re so glad that bios aren’t truly limited to those characters.

    Goodness, passion, and talent show themselves in such odd moments and when we least expect them. It’s miraculous to be able to witness be a part of those moments and get outside the avatar/bio with people.

    xoxo

    xoxo

  • This is gold. Thank you for writing. I could read this one again and again! I wrote recently with similar feelings. About how I so dislike boxes. About how we are so quick to put ourselves and others into these boxes and leave them there – to be that and not a thing more. I do this more than I would like to admit. When really, we are layered and contradictory. We are full of surprises. We are messy. Thank goodness for that. So enjoy your posts:) xoxo

  • I think about this label thing often lately, as I move closer to dropping altogether the “threebysea” identity that online folks know me as, not only because my family is now four as of last December, not three, but it feels so limiting to my interests and creative directions I want to explore after a long period of online and creative inactivity.
    Also, as a mother, i think a good deal of the mommy wars stems from women who believe the label of “mother” is THE defining label of their being and are offended by or secretly jealous of women who don’t forsake their true selves for the sake of motherhood. I’m a 42 year old former teacher/current SAHM/creative chick in Florida, who grew up as a suburban white girl in Kansas, with an Instagram account overrun lately with pictures of my kids, but I have the mouth of a hockey player, and damn if I wasn’t downloading Snoop Dogg’s new single before bed last night. I’m secure enough to laugh about the contradictions while embracing them all!

  • Ah, once again with the “it’s as if a hand has come out and taken yours” quote (oh god – two comments posted and I’m already a broken record).

    About a month ago I “released” the labels on my pinterest page for exactly the reasons you just eloquently described. What a relief.

    Have you ever heard of the mantra Soham? It’s pronounced so hum, meaning: I am That or I am All That is.

    It reminds me that I’m allowed to change. I am that – wait! I am THAT! It gives me room to grow, to explore, to decide without having to define. It also zooms the camera way out for me — I am not just x,y,z I am made of the stars and the moon! Just like those other one-worded labels – – it’s teeny, but it seems to say a lot more. (Although in our society, you can’t really walk around saying “I am all that is” without coming across as an arrogant narcissist. Ha. It’s more for your own personal meditation & contemplation. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could all be okay with our “everything-ness”?)

    I think we are taught as kids that it’s important to be one thing. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” seems to imply that. In high school it’s heightened to a new level when teachers/friends/parents/peers are all asking: what are you going to study in college? Again – implies that a) you have one thing you want to study (and there is no room for anything else!) and b) you want to continue your classroom education in the first place. I think it’s a mistake forcing kids into holes, like that. Yes- eventually if you want a career you need to make some solid choices – but all knowledge & experience influences your work and life. The world is open when you are.

    My question is: why do we want to present ourselves to the world in tiny packages with bows on top? Why do we purposefully limit ourselves? Why do we feel the need to define ourselves by our careers/hobbies? Do we think that by stating “I am a writer” that it makes us more of one (aka aren’t most of those labels just really for ourselves, to convince ourselves of something?)

    I think the more we believe in our deepest parts, the less we will feel the need to use labels to reveal our surface.

    Enjoy Soham and all of your “I Am-ness” and thanks for being messy.

    • i LOOOOOVE your comments, eva! and i agree – i think our boxes, limits are just ways of creating banners that convince, or define, or include and sometimes exclude – a faster way to say i am this so i likely disagree with that. i don’t know, it’s fascinating and also not, because humans are fascinating creatures in of themselves, aren’t they? why am i always so surprised by this? :)

  • So so love this, Erin! There’s so much freedom in being “and… and…” instead of limiting ourselves by thinking we can only be one thing, one kind of person. That’s something I believed for so long in my life, but I’ve learned that doing those (seemingly) out-of-character things makes my life so much richer (and me so much more happy).
    Your post makes me think of one of my favorite quotes – “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” (Walt Whitman)

  • Oh, words! There was a time when I thought that I “couldn’t write” and the thought of writing about myself nearly brought on a panic attack. Then I had to write and realized that I could! It is not my strong suit, at all. I really wish that people could just read my facial expressions, because I think I rock at those.

  • I sometimes think we have to know ourselves well, to be able to express our most essential selves in 140 characters–but at the same time, it’s so easy to hide behind pithy soundbites when there isn’t room for nuanced exploration.

    I think both are true: that when we are deep in self-examination, we can better express our core selves in as simple a way as possible — but also that the whole picture requires space for complexity. And now I wonder what my own Insta bio says. I’ll have to check…

    “Seeker of peace, joy, and a good cup of tea.” Hmm. I will stand by that, at present. :)

  • This is such a beautiful picture you paint with your words. You write of picking out words, searching for ways to accurately describe, and yet the pictures you paint are so vivid. I am always inspired by you.

  • I’m an introvert and like to get to know people better one-on-one. I do NOT like elevator pitches because it’s so reductive. One cannot reduce one’s entire being into a couple of words and expect it to be accurate or all encompassing of who you truly are.

    People will invest or reach out only if they want to. No concise, pithy pitch is going to convince them otherwise. It’s a sad thing that we miss out on the strangest and possibly even best parts of people because of labeling.

  • I too, love this post. Your writing is so refreshing! It reminds me of a favorite quote from Anne of Green Gables: “There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.” Indeed!

    As a writer, a mother, a facilitator of meetings, a homebody, a gardener, a dog trainer, a singer of favorite hymns . . . well, there are a lot of Zanes in me too! Thank you for reminding us that the beautiful and the messy and the contradictory can coexist.

    • Ahhhhh I love this, Zane! Thank you for sharing such a beautiful quote. :) I love that Anne of Green Gables. :)

  • i have so never been an ‘in the box’ person yet have still longed for acceptance and understanding … i think a lot of it boils down to expectations, of ourselves, of others … why do we feel compelled to be a certain something … and i also think it has something to do with comparing; “i am a,b,c like so-and-so, so this means i should be x,y,z like they are because it is expected” … we as a society love to label … behaviors, illnesses, styles, viewpoints … etc. it is so easy to get caught up in it all … thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

  • Wonderful words! I couldn’t agree more. I’m glad that I stumbled upon your blog :)

  • I love this so much. My husband and I work very hard at not labeling our children. I still live some of my adult life trying to get out from under the label that was given to me by my parents (it’s a strong glue those labels tend to have, and no matter how hard I pick and scratch it away, residue remains). Thank you for the way you capture these thoughts and put them into words. This post is certainly part of my healing.

    • Oh Ashley – I love what you’ve said here. You know, I never thought of it from the perspective of labeling our children and you’re right – it sticks. I’ll be remembering this for years to come with my own toddler! :)

  • Erin,

    Thank you thank you thank you. You put into words so eloquently what I am thinking.

    At TxSC any time I had to introduce myself I felt like breaking out in hives, the same way I do when I read any of my social media about me’s. I never feel like I explain myself fully. Like you said “they fall short”.

    But that is what makes everyone so beautiful. Their is so much more to their story. I agree, nothing is better than discovering things about other people that we would have never guessed. We are so much more complex than we could ever realize. It’s a beautiful discovery.

    • Oh I can completely relate, Brittany! Thank you for sharing this!!! :) And ha, yes, introductions can be the worst sometimes. ;)

  • So true. This really resonates with me. Internet persona is so tricky and usually pretty sugar coated. Keep up your honesty – I look up to it.

  • I found my way to this post via Brooklyn Supper. Thank you for writing and for sharing this; it’s beautiful and brilliant and so spot on.

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about The Persona and how building a strong, distinct style also narrows
    the scope. It’s an interesting trade off. One that appears favorable where numbers are concerned —
    consider the many instagram accounts with hordes of followers, featuring pictures taken precisely from
    the above, consistent background, consistent lighting, consistent nondescript but uplifting verbage to
    accompany — but one that seems to lack momentum and grit enough to feel real and whole. Yet, of course, there is realness and wholeness behind the neat and uniform boxes presented publicly. I guess it’s an exercise in humanity for us to imagine and appreciate that nuance and to avoid letting ourselves (and our experiences) be defined by our definitions.

    • I LOOOOOVE this thought, Jaime – you are so very right. We scream to be niched, branded, marked, and for what? For our individuality, to look different enough to easier locate our tribe of likeness? It’s all very odd, and strange, and also not strange at all. We are humans ever seeking comfort, it seems.

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