I still struggle calling myself a runner. I use the walk/run method, and there is a strong inclination of serious runners to turn up their noses at walk breaks. Never mind the fact that they might walk at points when they are running long distances. I run in intervals throughout my race, so for some purists, I’m not technically a “runner” yet.
I also don’t have a runner’s body. I see all of these lithe, thin runners at the start line, and I dream of having that body so I can fly through the air instead of plodding along pounding the pavement. “If you were really a runner,” my inner critic says, “you’d look like that.” Yet most of the runners that line up at a race looking nothing like that. They look more like me.
It’s so much easier to compartmentalize people than to understand that we are all complex and multi-faceted beings. I came out as a liberal one day when a friend was going off on a rant about them. “You don’t seem like one of those,” she spit out. I told her we are people. We are not the fixed image that is promulgated by Fox news. Some are extreme. Some are mildly committed. Some take “walk/breaks” and have a mix of views and beliefs both liberal and conservative. But I identify mostly with a liberal idealogy, so I can easily say I’m a liberal.
I am often mistaken for a vegetarian. No matter that I scarfed a chili-cheese dog at work the other day. When they are ordering for meetings, I almost always get an email that asks if I want a vegetarian meal. “You’re a vegan, right?” My neighbor told me they’d love to have me over for one of their grill outs, “but you’re a vegetarian,” she said. “No, I’m not,” I said with a laugh. She was dumbfounded. No matter that she never saw me eat in my life nor have I talked with her about food. There is something about me that screams vegetarian or vegan. Unfortunately my diet – and I – don’t identify with the label.
There is something transforming that happens when I proclaim “I am”. Maybe it’s the same powerful compulsion that drives us to label others. If I believe I’m thin rather than trying to be thin, I might eat better. If I believe I’m a writer, it might encourage me to schedule time daily to write. I know that the days I claim fully the label “runner”, I have happier, easier runs. Those words “I am” can be powerful and affirming even if we think they don’t apply yet.
What are the labels you ascribe to yourself? Are they driving you in positive or negative directions? How powerful are those labels in defining your daily habits?