In a world pressed with millions of social, professional, and personal pressures, we often forget who we really are, what we really want in our lives. Waking up in thirty years asking “Why didn’t I…” is the one thing that scares me the most.
This is primarily because I have seen it; I have seen it in professors, colleagues, family and bosses—I have even seen it developing within myself.
Social pressure is a natural thing. We cannot prevent it from knocking at the back door of our mind, asking shelter from the low priority scramble of thoughts. So if you cannot stop it, you can control it. This control will let you define yourself as who you truly are rather than who you “should” be.
The difference between defining and labelling is astoundingly large and yet overlooked. A label is a few words, often vague, with room for personal opinion. Of course, you can have both a definition and label. I am not one to dictate how you think of yourself or your chosen/prescribed spectrum of pronouns, adjectives, and otherwise. However, one thing remains true:
Your experiences and labels do not define you—how you handle and view them does.
Let’s explore the label “man’s man,” for example.
Man’s Man: a man noted or admired for traditionally masculine interests and activities — Merriam-Webster
Take a popular television character from one of my personal favorites: Ron Swanson(from Parks and Recreation). Labelled a “man’s man,” he is well-respected by the men surrounding him, has a way with the ladies, and is an avid, gruff outdoorsmen.
He also has a code.
This code defines him because it dictates how he behaves in certain scenarios no matter how difficult the situation. His definition is composed of honor, independence, chivalry, and simplicity, and ensures he alone makes decisions within an experience versus letting his label dictate (otherwise, we would not see him wearing a tiara to play along with his girlfriend’s kids in later seasons).
Let’s take another “man’s man” from television: Gaston (from Beauty and the Beast). Gaston is a “man’s man.” Respected by his fellow males and allegedly adored by most women in the village, his ego is inflated and lacking in personal honor. He lets his label define him, allowing the pressure from his label to make him an idea more than an actual human-being.
Okay—if you have not seen the live-action, 2017 movie yet, please do. Here’s why: previous adaptations (that I have seen) neglect a huge issue residing within Gaston: PTSD. The movie alludes to this mental illness more accurately. Gaston was not born to be as mentally inflated, violent or ill as depicted. Had he dealt with his PTSD (had he been in a supportive environment where men having feeling was acceptable), he would have been able to handle his experiences much differently. The pressure of being strong, combined with neglecting his PTSD, compressed into violence over time, making him into the seemingly two-dimensional “man’s man” stereotype.
Your own personal definition within your label—should you identify with one—is created through the way you handle your situations. Had Gaston not prescribed to the social pressures and stereotypes following his label, he could have been more like Ron Swanson. Ron Swanson, had he prescribed himself solely to his label as opposed to his definition, would end up a more similar to Gaston.
The whole point of this article is to take it to a professional standpoint.
My label is as an “Artist.” I know dozens of artists. Some like to be in a dark studio
surrounded by paint; some like to have their faces stuck in a 3D sculpting program; some need to be sculpting with their hands; some are poets with a loquacious way with words; and some don’t even admit they like art. We are all different, thus, our careers are extremely different despite the same label.
Were I sticking solely to my label, I would have lost myself.
In college, I began going down the fast track to everyone else’s creation. I became so caught up in impressing everyone but myself, I didn’t recognize the reflection in the mirror. I then began defining my career goals, defining what I loved to do and wanted to do, and became infinitely happier and motivated. By taking the social pressure off my shoulders, I was able to define my own code, goals and career.
Did I make enemies? Absolutely. But they existed long before I chose my own path.
You do not have to let your label define you or your career.
You are free to do what you want—you just have to go out there and get it.