Labels

For many people, the value of a jar ends when the original contents are used up. It was manufactured for that one purpose and then off to the waste (cough*recycle*cough) bin it goes. For others, the jar has potential to be reinvented but it’s just too much of a hassle to clean it out and especially to remove that pesky sticky residue left by the label. I say, make the effort! It’s worth it.

Think about it. Through a little bit of extra conscious effort, you give renewed purpose and life to what would otherwise be a one-hit wonder of a container. Clean out the remaining old stuff and take off its label, and voila! You have a handy holder, ready and able to store anything you might need or want that can fit in it. (Also it’s nice for the environment, if you’re into that kind of thing. ;))

I admit to not saving every single one of my store bought jars to use again, but I do have a whole line-up of them in my cupboard. What was once filled with apple sauce, coconut oil, and jam, now houses various nuts and grains. I frequently utilize old jars for storing leftovers in the fridge, as well as for spill-safe transportation of juice or soup. And they can be kept for non-food items too. The possibilities are endless!

There are some jars hanging out amongst my container stockpile that still have their old labels by dint of laziness (I wanted to keep the jar but didn’t take time for label removal). Generally I avoid these ones like the plague. They just aren’t as appealing to have out. I can’t see the new contents clearly, and the faded appearance of the old label is off-putting. It really takes that extra step of stripping the label to feel that I can apply the jar in a new, fresh way.

Consider how this way of relating to labels on jars can help us better understand how to relate to our own identity and consequently to the outside world. We place many labels on who we are, what we do, how we feel. We might be born with certain labels or get them applied as we go through life. It could be a label related to our gender, religion, diet, habits, personality traits, occupation, or any other number of the “contents” that make up a person and a life.

Maybe we wear a label that makes perfect sense to us and others, because it accurately reflects the contents of our selves. Our insides and outsides are congruent and mutually supportive. But maybe a label is still attached to our identity long after the contents have been depleted or changed, so it’s no longer a match. What you seem to be on the outside is not an accurate representation of who you are inside (or vice versa), and you’re left with a version of yourself that’s kind of confusing, not very enjoyable or useful to you. There is potential being ignored and/or wasted because of the label barrier, much like those still-labeled old jars that I avoid reusing. Remove the label, however, and there are endless possibilities for what that jar can be. Once your outdated identity label is removed, whatever needs or desires you have to fulfill the “jar” (i.e. you) can now clearly and wholly contain.

Established labels can be really tenacious in their stickiness, so it can be easy to give up removing them unless we are determined to do it and willing to just keep scrubbing away until the job is done.

One label I struggled against as a teen was being called “Shy”. I was in fact voted “Most Shy” my senior year of high school, even though I worked very hard all four years to break through that. Although everyone else was comfortable perceiving me this way, I was not. I did not want to live my life with this “shy” label determining who I was or could become, or how I experienced the world. (Some years later in college I finally did break through it and was nicknamed “Hollywood” by peers when I was president of the film club… Which later on became yet another label on my identity to remove!)

We are under no obligation to carry around a label that we do not feel good about. But maybe we wear a label and we don’t even realize it, and it would in fact be beneficial for us to remove it, to help us grow and experience life more richly.

Labels can often discourage us in changing from who we think (or others think) we are to more of who we want to be. They can also scare us from exploring the things that intrigue us, that we want to pursue in life or develop in ourselves. Someone confronted with an opportunity to be artistic will exclaim, “I’m not an artist!” Or another person wants to try running but it intimidates them so they make the excuse of, “I’m not a runner!” Or yet another is afraid of the negative perceptions some people have about vegans, so they ignore the secret desire to find out more about that diet and lifestyle.

The “I am” association we make with labels can often overwhelm who we are rather than simply be an aspect of our experience. A friend who works in hypnotherapy shared with me how she helps her clients address such labels, such as getting them to think of themselves as someone who has diabetes, rather than “I am diabetic”; or as someone who experiences moments of depression, rather than, “I am depressed.”

In some ways labels can restrict and hold us back, yet they can also give us a stronger handle on who we are or can become. For example, I was not an athlete growing up, was never involved in sports or any major physical activity until the last couple years getting into running. Last year while walking into registration for a 5K race, I saw a sign that read, “Welcome Athletes!” I was so giddy! The idea of being identified as an athlete is inspiring to me; it gives me inner courage and strength to become more of the active person I want to be. I may never be an athlete in the literal sense, but the term is empowering in my eyes and so is very worth leaning into.

If you struggle to keep or remove any of your own personal labels, it may help to remember that labeled products are generally dispensable. There will be another one to replace it. And another one. The supply is endless, so long as the manufacturer remains in business. In the game of life, the same goes. There are always new people to step into the role you no longer wish to play.

You are not dispensable, but your labels are. You can choose which to wear and which to remove. You can be up-cycled and given new life and new purpose.

It’s up to you to make the effort.

Are you a one-hit wonder of a container…? 🙂

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