Look at the Label
September 01, 2014
I’m guessing that like me, for many other WLR members, labels play an important part in staying “on track”. When I wander round the supermarket I properly pay attention to the nutritional content of whatever it is I’m putting in my trolley and when I’m on the hunt for a new outfit checking the label is a must (although the number that I’m looking for does vary depending on what store I’m in).
But I had a “bright light” moment last week, which had nothing and everything to do with my weight loss journey. It was an epiphany when I realised just how important labels are.
When people ask me what I do - I tell them “I am a writer”. Most specifically a performance poet but between blogs and freelancing and one-off-projects most of my waking hours are taken up with the written or spoken word. It is how I like to label myself. It is what best defines “me” and what I am.
On top of that, the constraints of a mortgage mean that I have to spend eight hours a day at a desk earning a pay cheque which helps to keep the roof of Hudson HQ over my head (and Lovely Husband’s too). For twenty-five years my desk job was that of secretary (or legal secretary or PA) but basically spent typing words and preparing documents. Words made up 70% of my “day job” duties. A further 10% was taken up with routine administration (‘phones, filing, HR duties) and the remaining 20% was occupied by numbers. Invoicing; time posting; making sure the sums added up.
I had a label for my day job. I was a “Secretary”. It was a given that I worked mostly with words and did a lot of typing. It was what I did and strangely became part of identifying “who I was”.
Then eighteen months ago I found myself working in a role that baffled me. When I had been interviewed and when I had accepted the job it had been presented to me as “office manager and project secretary with some accounting”. I understood that as well typing, my “office day” would now include ensuring that my co-workers did not run out of office supplies (or tea and coffee); that I would be responsible for keeping tabs on annual leave and sickness schedules and that there would be some “financial” administration as well. I accepted the job.
It hasn’t been an easy eighteen months. The job description was definitely flawed. I realised this when I saw the email template created for me by the “higher ups”. It signed me off as “Framework Finance Accountant”. Accountant? ACCOUNTANT?!! (At this point I should admit that I struggle with dyscalculia, most easily described as dyslexia with numbers). Also, in my head I had the label “project secretary” which, in my understanding, meant typing, telephones and filing.
Unfortunately it soon became obvious that the discussion at interview had very definitely misled me when it came to what my role would be. The “financial” aspect took up at least 70% of my working day. But the problem was that in my head it shouldn’t have been occupying so much of my time. I had labelled myself “secretary” and that meant that most of time should be occupied with the “non-numbers” stuff... and so the more my day was occupied with “doing the maths” the more stressed I would get because, according to the label, I shouldn’t be spending so much time doing the math.
The epiphany last week came when I finally realised that the problem wasn’t with the job I was doing... it wasn’t even with my ability to do the job (which I question on a daily basis)... it was with the label I had given myself.
I realised that all the times that I had spent with spreadsheets in front of me that one of my recurring thoughts was “I need to get on with “proper” work”. I found myself waiting for someone higher up to say “are you still working on that” (in dismissive tone) and finding myself coming up with defence statements in readiness. But the plain fact of the matter was that no-one ever questioned what I was doing. It was part of what they were paying me to do. A big part.
The only person who thought that it shouldn’t take up so much time was me. I had labelled myself as a secretary. Everyone else had labelled me Accountant. They were right. I am an accountant. I number-crunch. I juggle the numbers. I analyse the numbers. That is 70% of my working day. It is what is stated at the foot of every email I send and is the basis on which the majority of my “day job interaction” is based. It was a revelation. I understood that what I had led myself to believe had been based on my interpretation of a long-standing situation… when the situation had changed my understanding hadn’t. I had simply pinned the old label on the new circumstance and then had been struggling with the fact that I had create a “round peg” to fit in a “square hole”. It made me wonder just how many other labels I had transferred when it should have been ripped up.
One of the major ones is “hefty”. It is the label I use to describe the fact that I am carrying rather more weight than is good for me or than I would like to be carrying. It is the term by which I define myself. “I am hefty”. Except I am not “hefty”. Not anymore. My time here at WLR has seen to that.
My waistline is being whittled. The number on the scale is dropping. I spent most of the summer wearing white jeans. Yes! White Jeans!! (I can still barely believe it... I find myself checking the summer snapshots just to confirm it wasn’t a figment of my imagination).
Yes. I still need to lose weight. But when I choose to really “see” what faces me in the mirror, I realise that the “hefty” label needs to be ripped off and thrown away. The key is acknowledging the reality, not the “default” which is programmed into my brain. And I am pretty certain that I am not the only person who has problems with “looking at the label”. I have no doubt that there are many of my fellow WLR-ers who have labelled themselves, possibly a good long while ago, and who have never gone back to look at the label. To check whether it is still accurate or whether it needs to be disregarded or discarded.
The sense of accomplishment in my day job now that I have come to understand that I am doing the job I am paid to do has been amazing. Likewise, when I look in the mirror I now see me, I don’t see what the label expects me to see.
I have relabelled myself as “overweight”. But I can see that I am no longer as overweight as I was when I decided to be “hefty”.
Just like I can see that I am nowhere near as numerically inept as I was when I was a “secretary doing a bit of math”... I am now an Accountant. Just like I am a “Successful WLR member”. The weight is coming off. The number on the scales is reducing. The size on the label is coming down. The label I have given myself has been reviewed, revised and updated. It now properly reflects the current situation. Not the circumstances of the past.
So as you pay attention to the labels on your food and the labels in your clothing... why not take a minute to pay attention to the labels you give yourself… you might be surprised to find just what a positive impact it can have.
Have a wonderful WLR weekend.
With a hug