“We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I’m going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.”Stephen Fry
One night, I was sitting in front of a rusty Mac 2012 computer, typing away on an outdated Word document. With two index fingers, I was clicking into existence a story about an ordinary village girl. She was a red-head who was captured and taken into the king’s castle. They revealed to her that she was the long-lost princess, and before she was taken, she was promised to the prince for marriage. Her kidnappers injected her with a serum that made her lose her memory, so now she has to remember her childhood and fall in love with the prince again.
After three pages of hard work, I got up and eagerly told my uncle that I wanted to become a writer.
He looks at me as if I summoned Satan himself, and tells me that I shouldn’t become a writer. He said that writers are losers who make no money. Instead, I should become a doctor and then hire a writer to write my autobiography. I remembered walking away from him, stunned. I know it’s not fair to blame someone for crushing your dreams, but I definitely contribute my uncle’s words to why I stopped writing stories.
Labeling yourself is like being locked in a cage
As much as I hate to admit it, my uncle taught me a valuable lesson that day.
He saw people’s careers as labels. If someone was a janitor, he couldn’t possibility be a musician. And if someone was a college student, she’s not a swimmer. By sorting ourselves into these boxes, it makes it easier for others to compartmentalize us, which not only takes away our worth but also takes away our humanity.
However, if we see our careers, passions, and interests as things we do and not what we are, we restore our humanity. The people who hear what we do will meet us with curiosity and respect, not comparisons and scrutiny.
When I tell people I write instead of calling myself a writer, it takes a huge burden off my shoulders. Using the verb makes it easier to make mistakes. Take breaks. And procrastinate. I can write at any time of the year. And I don’t have to worry if my writing meets the criteria of other writers in the field. I can sit and type away any silly story about princesses or a cup of coffee and not have to worry if my writing can accurately show my worth as a human being.
If you’ve spent your life telling yourself you’re a lawyer, doctor, writer, etc., it’s time that you stop labelling yourself with nouns and start using verbs to describe your craft. This gives you permission to explore other careers, hobbies, and passions throughout your lifetime. And, you’ll stop destroying your self-esteem by evaluating yourself based on how many lives you’ve saved. Or how high your GPA is. Or how many books you’ve published.
Labels are for food, not for people. We are not born with bar codes. So, let’s not start today.