Our friends have a daughter, Natalie, who is finishing her sophomore year in high school. She came home from school this year resolved to change schools in the fall.
“The teachers and students don’t understand that I’m not that same person I was in 7th grade. They only see me as a person who studies and gets good grades. I really want to be a cheerleader but I’ll never get the chance to prove myself.”
The folks at the school have no idea that Natalie is a trained gymnast who can toss off a back handspring like she was born doing it.
Think back to your own childhood. Did something happen around elementary school or junior high that gave you a label? Were you seen as the jock, the preppie, the geek, the “brainiac”, the “Goth”, or any of the other boxed-in archetypes.
Sometimes we can’t seem to shake off the labels and the branding, and we even begin to believe the labels are true.
While Hollywood and Americana romanticizes the notion of growing up with the same group of kids since kindergarten, it is the very thing that could be boxing us in.
When we believe in the labels.
The psychology of this early branding is fascinating. It can impact how others treat us, the opportunities offered to us, the relationships and connections we make, our sense of Self, how we see our Self, what we believe is possible or impossible.
And – often subconsciously – it can shape the choices we make and the actions we take. Unfortunately it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy with weighty consequences on our career and life paths.
I’d like to think these labels (and the impact they have on our performance) are something we grow out of as we move on to the world of work. But old habits (and labels) are hard to shake.
Look around your workplace. It could be happening in every organization, in every city, in every industry. What labels exist at in your company? What opportunities are given to individuals that have been ‘branded’ with a certain label? How might you be branded at your company?
Indeed, old labels might be hard to shake. But it’s not impossible. How much do we allow other people or environments or circumstances – or labels – to impact what we are capable of? Even though the labels might seem a barrier, how many of them become comfortable for you, a familiar path of least resistance?