As the sun sets on 2014, I’m going to close out the year with a post on labels and that ever present question: so…what do you do? 

Through my end of the year reflection and introspection, I realized that I am still holding on to some of the things it would be best for me to let go, including labels and always trying to define myself or shove myself into the confines of other people’s definitions and expectations. I keep trying to figure out how to describe ‘what I do’ rather than just do.

But I hope I’ve come to a point where I’ve (finally) realized that I don’t need labels to identify my current self or to guide me along my future path.

I think that labels are sometimes what hold us back: I’m a runner, a weight lifter, a yogi, a firefighter, a student, a coach, a blogger, a researcher, a this, a that, a whatever. We hold onto the label rather than just manifest whatever we are, which creates stress and struggle in our lives when we no longer identify with the the label.

Being a runner is probably the hardest one for me to let go of. I loved running. It was a form of release, meditation, freedom, and pure joy for me. I still long for the days of running, which just makes me sad, so why am I holding on?

It’s crazy to me that I’ve truly accepted that I’m not a firefighter anymore (and don’t even need to wear the  ‘medically retired firefighter’ label anymore, which I adopted for a time), but that not being a runner and weight lifter anymore still creates angst! 

In my efforts to rid myself of these labels so I could move on, I just tried to find new labels.

I was a student. A blogger. An aspiring yogi. A hiker. An Egoscue-r. A researcher. An occupational injury prevention person (that wasn’t really a label I readily used but it was part of ‘what I did’). A writer (I really, really, really, wanted to be a writer). 

I would constantly ask my husband “how do you describe what I do to other people?”

It was easy to just say grad student. But I wasn’t just a grad student: I was trying to become a better blogger, I was researching chronic pain with the intention of writing a book, I was helping establish an occupational injury prevention business, I was writing and networking more in pain forums, I was researching, synthesizing, and writing about general health and wellness information for the Facebook page and the blog.

I was doing a lot of stuff, but I didn’t have a job. Or a suitable label. How do you label all that? What the heck did I do? It was definitely easier just to say ‘I’m in grad school’.

But then I graduated. (I think the tone of this post could probably be read in the voice of Eeyore thus far…)

The easy ‘grad student’ label no longer applied. So how best to encapsulate all of these other things? How do I define ‘what I do’. And through trying to define ‘what I do’ with a ‘suitable’ label, was I really trying to answer the question of who I am? 

See, this is where things get tricky.

It’s not just that I couldn’t readily label myself with an acceptable term; I was really trying to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be.

Granted, we are all different people now than we were a year ago, 5 years ago, a month ago, 5 minutes ago.

This is a good thing. But it’s not always an easy thing.  

And the hardest part for me wasn’t actually living this change, but rather explaining this change to other people.

Labeling it appropriately so it could be properly cataloged by whomever I was talking to (and judged to be worthy or unworthy, at least in my head. That’s an underlying worry that weighs on me, too. I’m more worried about what other people are thinking about what I say that I’m doing than I am worried about actually doing the things that I’m doing. I want so much TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY. Ridiculous, no?). 

But these neuroses aren’t mine alone (right? Beuller….Beuller….).

How often do we hear, “so….what do you do?”

I’m still doing most of the things listed above; I’m really going to focus on research and writing, both for the book and for the blog and hopefully contributing to some other media outlets.

And I’m going to take a Coursera course in Medical Neuroscience to dip my toes in those waters and see if pursuing a PhD in neuroscience is in my future (as it’s already in my past-I was in a PhD program in psychobiology/neuroscience right after my college graduation-why not? I’ll come around full circle.).

But I’m not going to try to label it anymore.

I am not going to try and define (defend?) ‘what I do’ anymore. Constantly trying to put ‘what I do’ into words (so that others would TAKE ME SERIOUSLY) was holding me back: rather than just being all the things I want to be, I’ve been trying to figure out how to fit the things I want to be into expected molds.

What am I?

Am I writer?  Should I write for academics? clinicians? patients? Should I only write about pain? Can I include food, nature, books, random musings, and all of the other things I love – and that I believe are fundamental to my own health – or would that be too confusing? Do I need to include citations and keep it all evidence based? Do I need to keep it narrative style to keep it interesting? How much of my own experiences should I include? If I try to just write what I want to write, will there be an audience? 

And am I still a student even though I finished grad school? Am I a coach? A science communicator? A pain advocate? A curator of ideas? A consultant? A researcher? A blogger? A pain patient?  An interesting person with lots of interests?

Yes. 

In trying to find a label that fit, I stopped trying to find, and be, me. All of these doubts and labels have been holding me back, I kept thinking that I had to fit into a specific box and have all the answers.

No more, I say! I’m breaking free of the shackles and casting off the labels so that I can just be me and just do what I do in 2015 (and beyond).

I can be a neuroscience geek and a blogger, a reader and an author, a pain advocate and a play advocate, a foodie and a nerd, an outdoorswoman and a movement professional, a science communicator and an amateur photographer, a critical thinker and a whimsical thinker, a teacher and a lifelong student. 

Pshew.

And I can combine all of these things into something that may be interesting and useful to other folks, something that may help shift how we think and act as a society and how we view (and build) the world around us.

I’ve been a reader my whole life (well, since I was about 3…I think…I’ll have to verify that with my mom) and I’ve always wanted to be writer. One thing I know for sure, is it’s impossible to become a writer without writing.

So I’m skipping the labels and breaking out of the boxes and I’m just going to write. From my heart. No rules.

And I’m going to (try and) be ok with knowing that not everyone is going to like or enjoy or relate to what I write (or even read it, for that matter!).Thanks for the memories, 2014.

So goodbye 2014, you’ve been great, I learned a ton.

I had a major breakthrough in my pain management, I had some wonderful successes as well as some pretty difficult setbacks, I wrote more about one of my passions, the power of language, and how it influences pain management, healing, and body image, I contributed more on LinkedIn, I graduated, I spent three months in Colorado, I snowboarded, I went to Michigan a couple times, I spent time with friends and family, I ate good food and drank great wine.

It was a good year.

Hello 2015. I look forward to our (label-less) journey together. 

As always, thanks for reading my post, folks! If you like what you read, please share via the envelope icon below! Or sign up for the newsletter – it’s only once a month :)

**note** this post actually started as a comment over on my good friend (and former physical therapist!) Ali’s blog, Berry Happy Bodies. I highly recommend checking out her blog, there’s great information on there from her incredibly unique perspective as a yogi, a vegan, a Doctor of Physical Therapy, and just an all-around, wonderful person.

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