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Overcoming challenges can be tough. Just be sure to not let your circumstances define YOU…

On March 06, 1972, a baby boy was born to an estranged, drug addicted father and a mother with a bigger vision for her own life and that of her new baby. This boy was labeled early on as someone who was likely to end up in prison like his father.

Dabbling in petty crime and having a disrespect for the law, this young man seemed on a parallel trajectory to the man who had sired him. A fortunate encounter at a military base in Germany changed this young man’s future. At 13 years old and already 6’6″, this boy was mistaken for an enlisted officer, not the step-son of a drill sergeant.

Coach Dale Brown told the boy to practice hard and channel his frustrations into shooting hoops. Unlike others who had labeled this young man as someone unlikely to succeed, Brown poured greatness into him. Brown happened to be the head coach at Louisiana State University and the young man happened to be Shaquille O’Neal. The rest, as they say, is history with O’Neal becoming one of the most powerful players the NBA has ever seen.

Had O’Neal allowed the ‘labels’ to sink in and define him, he would have never gone on to become the super star we all know. When Coach Brown gave young Shaq a new, positive label, the boy decided to wear that one instead, and when he took this on, he changed his future.

We are all living into someone else’s labels for our lives. Perhaps you have been told you’re too fat, or not intelligent, or incapable of achieving something; by accepting it, you have allowed this person’s label to have power over your life. What if you could choose to instead allow yourself to be like Shaq, and accept a new label — something more positive that could shift your life’s trajectory – what would happen then? You see, we all have labels, and the only difference between those that become successful and those that do not is that people who triumph refuse to live into any label that isn’t positive; in other words, they refuse to wear what I refer to as the Scarlett Letter.

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic book, The Scarlett Letter, Hester Prynne conceives a child via an adulterous affair. Refusing to name the baby’s father, Prynne is forced to wear the letter ‘A’ on her dress to remind the townspeople of her grievous act. Although we may not wear a bold letter on our clothes to signify our perceived life’s failures, many of us continue to willingly carry the mantle of shame regardless.

As a child I was told I was fat. People continually commented on how much I ate and how overweight I was. My family called me the ‘fat cousin.’ I was teased at school. I was humiliated with name calling and bullying. Because of the constant torment, I decided that I was fat and that started the downward spiral of eating more and more and thus gaining an increasing amount of weight. This was the Scarlet Letter I wore, an ‘F’ for fat. Everything I did was simply reinforcement for becoming fatter. The fatter I became, the uglier I felt, the more I slid into a deep, dark depression.

It wasn’t until a family friend commented to my dad that I was beautiful, and that one day, he would have to worry about boys that I even considered that wearing another label might be possible. From that moment on, I wondered if perhaps I had been mislabeled; maybe I wasn’t naturally fat, maybe I was making myself fat to live into how others perceived me. When this one woman randomly gave me a new label, I entertained the idea that I could be something else.

I started running, I started eating less, and yes, I started to release weight. By the time I entered grade seven, I was no longer fat; instead, I was healthy. The kids didn’t pick me last for baseball anymore, and I started to finish in the top five for track and field. Something shifted in me and the label that I had worn for so long became unglued.

I would go on to gain weight again in my late teens and early twenties. I was in an abusive relationship and allowed myself to wear the label ‘he’ placed on me. I went from beautiful to a ‘loser’ and an ‘idiot.’ I was ‘ugly’ and ‘unattractive.’ Inherently, what had happened was that I had allowed myself to be negatively labeled once more and wear the scarlet ‘F.’ It wasn’t until I decided to take back my power and refuse to wear this label that I began to get healthy once again. For the last twenty years, I have renounced the label of fat.

Fundamentally, we can always choose which labels to wear or not to wear, just as we choose our clothing. Just because someone is attempting to define us does not mean that we have to take this on. Consider the notion that not everything people say about us is true. People are merely labeling us based on their own experiences, judgments, beliefs and biases; this doesn’t make them right. One of the prayers in A Course in Miracles asks that we consider that everything, including people, is a matter of our perception and thus it doesn’t truly have meaning. In other words, people only have the power we give them.

I encourage you to take back your power. Shrug off any negative labels, using them merely as fuel for your desire to turn your life around. Make a decision to adopt only labels that positively influence your future, knowing that ultimately YOU have the choice of which label(s) to wear.

Balanced Living Tips for Releasing Labels

1. When people attempt to label you, remember that it is always your choice to wear that label or not.

2. Consider the person attempting to label you. Is this someone you respect and admire? Is what they are saying something you can use to improve?

3. Refuse to label others with anything other than something positive.

Susan Sly is a best selling author, speaker and entrepreneur. She has appeared on CNN, CNBC, Fox, Lifetime Television and the CBN. Susan is the mother of four children and resides in Scottsdale, Arizona.



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