“How someone else decides to classify me or judge me or categorize me is none of my business.” – Rich Roll
I read this quote from Rich Roll during an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit in April 2015 and it stuck with me. It makes me think about why and how we classify ourselves and how much control we have over how other people do.
I have a friend who's obsessed with hierarchies. She and I have had many conversations over the years about books she's read that classify people in various ways such as learning types, as introverts or extroverts, or through a hierarchy of needs. And I love our conversations because categorizing things helps us learn and is a catalyst for new ideas. But through our discussions, we always find that the labels aren't an end-all be-all to who we are or who we'll be in the future. I don't think anyone is a born “introvert” or “extrovert” — but I instead think that extroversion is like a muscle and gets stronger the more we use it.
There's another time I think about labels which is when someone asks me, “What do you do?”. Which of course they typically mean “professionally”. You've had this question asked to you countless times. And I'm sure you've given as many different answers over the years as I have. Maybe you've experimented with different answers that sound the most impressive or send a certain message. If you're in business, you may have even been coached on what to say in response to this question that best sells yourself or your business.
And I see the importance of this question. It's a natural part of the discovery process when you meet someone new. But I've always been curious as to why we answer the question “what do you do?” with an answer better suited for the question “what is your job?” Because most often people respond with their profession: I'm a nurse. I'm a food server. I'm an attorney.
For a while I started having fun with the question, and I answered it honestly with things like, “I travel to new countries. I walk more each day than anyone else I know. I read several books a month. And I talk a lot about business…”
I knew what they meant when they asked me the question, but this type of answer often led to more fun conversations than “I'm a website developer.”
It's not just professionally that we classify and label ourselves. We do it for everything: I'm a traveler. I'm a blogger. I'm an entrepreneur. I'm a yogi. I'm a mom. I'm a runner.
What bothers me about labeling ourselves is that labels stick. And sometimes they're hard to get rid of. Today I may be a traveler because I'm traveling. Tomorrow I might stay put for a month or a few years because I'm building a new business. Am I still a traveler during those times? Who cares? Can't I just be a handsome guy who travels, builds businesses, and practices yoga when he finds the time?
Last year I was reading a book by Seth Godin, one of my favorite authors. And in my notes, I accidentally wrote the title of the book as All Marketers Are Story Tellers. But the actual title of the book is All Marketers Tell Stories. And through my mistake, I noticed a subtle but important difference. And across the top of my notes I wrote, “Stop classifying things as what they are, and instead, say what they do.”
My lesson here is: You don't have to be a traveler to see the world. You don't have to be a backpacker to stay in a hostel. And you don't have to be a hiker to climb to the top of a mountain. Don't let labels stop you from doing (or not doing) anything. Whether someone else decides to put a label on you, as Rich Roll says, “is none of my business.”