May 12, 2021

Experiences worth classifying, or simply enjoying


As the world record holder of wearing nametags, I’ve conducted a significant amount of field research around the experience of labeling.

And what I’ve discovered is that it’s a doubled edged sword. Depending on the context, labeling can either be helpful or harmful.

Affect labeling, for example, is the process of attaching words to feelings. It helps us manage our emotions, empowers us to classify and understand what’s going on around us and, if need be, change our unhealthy behaviors and choices.

Ask anyone who has experience with the panicking spread of anxiety, labeling is one of the few vehicles through which we exert some measure of comfort over the course of our own lives. In fact, reflecting on my own mental health history, my healthiest way out of panic has always been through the ability to identity and put a comprehensible label upon my feelings.

That’s the power of emotional labeling. Freedom begins with naming things. Once you’ve put a word to it, you’ve separated yourself from it. And that means it can’t control you.

Creative labeling, on the other hand, is a very different animal.

Because in the process of bringing new projects to life, words can obstruct understanding. When there is naming, the name is often mistaken for what has been named. The secret to building something real and lasting is not being so damn focused on defining it.

When we spend an extraordinary amount of time naming and labeling and understanding and crispy articulating something, that can actually steal energy from the joy of making it. And the act of labeling can diminish the capacity of an idea to fulfill their potential.

Ultimately, the goal is to be careful not to dismiss labeling as either a panacea or blanket mistake. It all depends on context.

Some things require a nametag, some don’t.

Are you enjoying the bird’s song, or trying to classify the kind of bird that is singing?