On Categorising Ourselves

Photo by Steve Harris

One of the ways we perceive those around us is by categorisation. Like the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter. We label people to understand them. She is ambitious: he is laid back. He is adventurous; she is scared of her own shadow. She is a ski bunny; he is a couch potato. She is black; he is white. And all the stereotypical connotations that brings. I dislike labels. They can wreck our confidence. They fail to take into account the complexity of human personalities, and how we are never a fixed point. We don’t boomerang back into the same mould. One of the most powerful markers of being human is how capable of change we are, always evolving, pressing against our environment and challenges.

Still, the allure of finding out how we are perceived is undeniable. There are countless Facebook quizzes you can do to determine your personality type. We project the best versions of ourselves on social media and admire our polished reflections. When criticism comes – and it does, for we are constantly negotiating our place in the world – it rankles. Acceptance and support are the higher road, and sometimes tired boots just don’t want to take that path. I’m guilty of it. In fact, reading my novel I can tell which characters I dole out harsher judgement to, when it’s my job to understand rather than wield a truncheon.

Photo by Craig Sunter

Time. Time changes us. I’m not particularly bold, though I have grown more bold with age. As a child, my parents sent me to a convent school, deciding that my shy personality required a protected environment. My brother was more outgoing, sporty, cheeky. His school could be confused for a castle, on sprawling grounds where the students roamed like roosters. You get what I mean. But there’s something about approaching middle age, when the rocky teenage years and the immortal twenties are behind you, that stops you short. You are more aware of the creep of time, all you want to achieve, the shrinking frame in which to fit it all in.

Desire, need and belief are so powerful. Don’t believe for a second that you aren’t capable of change, or that it is too late to be who you want to be. Don’t let the pressure to perform daunt you, or the dissenters steal your fire. You can be bold and vulnerable. You can be both cultured and crude. Hell, you can be an accountant moonlighting as a freewheeling pink-haired acrobat. You can defy the categories you are placed in. Don’t hide your complexity, or what you think are your flaws. Flaws make us human. Colour and authenticity are infinitely preferable to cardboard cuts outs. And really, at the end of it all, no one’s opinion matters but yours. Shine on.

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