Opinion: How labeling me held me back

When people asked me what I did, I couldn’t answer “I do gymnastics” which had been my answer since I was 5 years old. Without the label “gymnast”, I didn’t know who I was. (Splash)

I still remember my heart dropping on my toes when my parents broke the news.

“We are moving,” they clearly told me.

My 15 year old self was perfectly happy with my life back then. I was in the middle of my sophomore year of high school, I had a tight-knit group of friends, and most important to me at the time: I was a gymnast.

The move would fall in the middle of my competitive season and it would probably be difficult for me to join a new gym in the city we were moving to. Being a gymnast was an integral part of my identity. This is how I introduced myself to everyone, this was my “fun fact” that I shared in games to get to know you and this is where I found the most confidence.

The idea of ​​having that part of me so abruptly ripped out of my life was hard to fathom.

Once my family moved out and I couldn’t call myself a gymnast anymore, I slowly slipped into a major identity crisis. It wasn’t a crisis where I bought a whole new wardrobe or changed my taste in movies, but a crisis that threw me into a depression. I went to school, came home, immediately went to bed, woke up to eat, and went back to sleep. I repeated this cycle for the next year of my life.

When people asked me what I did, I couldn’t answer “I do gymnastics” which had been my answer since I was 5 years old. Without the label “gymnast”, I didn’t know who I was.

So I quickly slipped into a new label: the “new kid”. I took this one wholeheartedly and did exactly what the “new kid on the block” should do.

I isolated myself, ate lunch in the bathroom for about a week, hid in the back of the classroom and cried on my way home from school.

Depressing, I know. But at the time, it was my identity. I wasn’t McKell, I was the “new guy”. I was the depressed child. I have accumulated more and more negative labels over the years.

I am weak.

I’m boring.

I’m not good enough.

Some days I tried to counter negative labels with positive labels. I was a daughter, a sister, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was nice, I was smart, I was loyal. And while acknowledging some of my strengths helped me, I couldn’t shake the shackles of negative labels I had accumulated for so long.

Years later, as I transitioned into college life, I found myself questioning those labels and roles I had identified with for most of my life.

When the layers of labels peeled off, who am I really?

For me, an answer came as I sat on the grass in a park near my home in Arizona in 2021.

I was reading a chapter of “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, a book that has since transformed my life.

“The ultimate truth of who you are is not that I am this or that I am, but I am,” Tolle wrote.

The sentence stopped me in my tracks.

I read it over and over again when I realized it was one of those “aha moments” that Oprah always talks about.

Who I was wasn’t the labels I had put on myself all these years. The magic of my value was simply that I existed and had the ability to breathe, live and learn.

This epiphany catapulted a journey of self-discovery, self-love, and growth. As I kept this nugget of wisdom tucked away in my back pocket, I began to notice how often I let these labels control my life and how often they kept me from trying new things.

I’m bad at math.

I am not a good runner.

I am so emotional.

I’m not good at communicating.

I’m not creative enough.

The voices of doubt and hesitation seemed to have a permanent residence in the back of my head, controlling what I was capable of and reminding me of what I lacked.

Labels can be useful for some people, but in my case I misunderstood them because identify.

This tendency to label me has quietly blurred the lines between fact and fiction. I was making decisions and basing my self-esteem on those labels, rather than having an understanding of my unwavering value as a human.

Every Sunday at church, growing up, I echoed the voices of other young women around me: “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us and we love him.

This phrase always brought me peace as a teenager. I understood that no matter what, I was a daughter of God and that he loved me. I always believed what I said, but I didn’t fully understand this truth until years later after I woke up.

God loved me for my essence, not because of my degree, my ability to do geometry or run a marathon. He didn’t care who I was or what I did, he just loved me because I existed. This truth brings me incredible peace.

So while I understand the urge to constantly define ourselves, I believe that removing our labels and being brave enough to look straight ahead at the most vulnerable and true is a magical part of life. I believe that this rawness is what connects us all as humans and that under all labels we are souls with infinite and unchanging value.

I still have to fight the labels that subconsciously tell me who I am and who I am not every day. However, I am grateful to understand now that I am worth more than the labels I have allowed to define me for so long.

“You realize your true identity as consciousness itself, rather than what consciousness has identified with. This is the peace of God. The ultimate truth of who you are is not that I am this or that I am that, but that I am.

– McKell Park

Senior Reporter

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