“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

~Albert Einstein


Because I accepted an award from Kate, I am obliged to answer this question about myself.

“If you had the chance to go back and change on thing in your life, would you, and what would you change?”

This is an important question. No one is without regrets. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t and I am no exception. I still feel sick about some of the things I’ve done, but if I could go back and change one thing in my life, it wouldn’t be an event or a choice. Those mistakes and regrets are things that have shaped me for the better, even the painful memories guide me to be more conscious of my actions and the way I treat others.

What I would change is the way I viewed myself.

We live in a society a tad obsessed over labeling people. She’s smart. He’s athletic. She’s a born singer. Or even on the negative side…She’s mean. Not an athletic bone in his body. He’s not a good reader. She’s so disorganized. I realize we often have good intentions for this labeling process. We want to steer people in the right direction, let them know where they might mostly likely succeed. And we put labels on ourselves so we can have a sense of belonging. But I can’t help but think we do a lot of harm in this also. We shove ourselves and others in corners and watch them turn out exactly the way we expect, for better or worse, because what other option do we give?

I had a few labels on me as a child. I was gifted in dance and music (Everyone said so.) I was horrible at science (My test scores said so.) I excelled in English (my teacher said so.) Chemistry was a disaster. (My experiment said so.) My 9th grade chemistry teacher told my mother, “She can do it, but she’s told herself that she can’t. So she doesn’t.” Those words didn’t hit me then, but they haunt me now.

“I’m just not that smart.” I told this to myself and even others and I believed it so wholeheartedly that I honestly thought I was exempt from studying chemistry. I wouldn’t get it anyway, so what was the point? Now I will admit, my brain does not naturally wrap around math and science concepts, but that doesn’t mean I’m not capable of learning and understanding. I erroneously thought that anything I could be good at should come easily to me. But what is the point of only trying to excel at what comes naturally to us? Bo-ring.

So if I could go back, I would shred all those labels I allowed others to pin on me or the ones I stuck on myself. I’d tell myself that the world is wide and full of possibilities, and there’s nothing in my way except maybe myself.

But since I can’t do that, I tell it to my kids instead, which is a little like time travel anyway.


5 comments

  1. So well said. We label to make sense of things and people, but, as you said, those categories can define us in ways that don’t benefit.

    It’s hard as a parent not to do this at times. Thanks for the reminder to give my children space to try out life.

  2. This reminds me of something someone said in general conference not long ago. Labels are usually well-intentioned, like you said, but if you tell Child A she’s smart and Child B she’s pretty, chances are, Child A will hear, “I’m not pretty,” and Child B will hear, “I’m not smart.”

    Best not to label and categorize at all. Who knows what we can accomplish once we put our minds to it?

    • ali

    • November 2, 2010

    • 4:54 pm

    This is brilliant. I could have written this myself (but it wouldn’t have sounded half as interesting or eloquent.)

    I had this exact same experience in math. My teacher and principle even tried to stage an intervention to get me into the advanced math classes. But I had already labeled myself as BAD AT MATH that no amount of test scores or encouragement on their part would convince me otherwise. To this day, I shudder when I have to do a math problem.

    The good news is, homeschooling is helping me, lol! In working with my boys through the problems I’M learning. Who’da thunk!?

    I’m RTing this because it’s just that good. Thanks for sharing Liesl!

    • Liesl

    • November 2, 2010

    • 6:06 pm

    Thanks everyone!

    Caroline I’ve been reading “Siblings Without Rivalry,” (yeah, I know, sounds like a paradox,) but it talks a lot about the label thing. It’s a great book; revolutionizing my approach to parenting. 🙂

    • Lisa

    • November 2, 2010

    • 6:19 pm

    I’m not likely to forget this post.

    Awesome.

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