If you’ve been following my work, you know that the one thing I reject more than anything is labeling myself. “What do you do?”, a seemingly innocuous question, feels like a shortcut way of trying to get to know me, and I bristle when asked. I feel like the questioner wants to place me into a set of characteristics that go along with the job title. And so I bob and weave from the question.
Growing up, I believed that each of us had a future job title suited just for us. Like all high-schoolers, I attended job fairs, trying to figure out which line of work “spoke” to me. However, by the time I attended college, I remained undecided and only reluctantly chose Business Management as it seemed the most general, universal path.
Since then, anytime I think I found something that fits just right, every time I am about to put a label on a business card and give myself some permanence, I pull back. The label isn’t right. It isn’t enough. It is too limiting, too confining.
I don’t want to define myself as only one thing. Because in that defining, I exclude all others.
I spent the early part of my spiritual search following the mantra, “Neti, Neti,” which is Sanskrit for “Not this, not that.” It is a mantra designed to help us discern our way to truth, to find out what fits and what doesn’t.
Now, after close to two decades of that mantra guiding my path, I’m shifting into a different mantra: “I am this, and I am that.” Or, if I’m going to be any single label, then I’m going to be all of them. This is what wholeness means to me.
Society has taught us that we human beings are nothing more than a collection of labels: we’re doctors, we’re mothers, we’re activists, we’re gardeners, we’re authors. And not only are we our job titles, but we’re also our personality characteristics: we’re funny, wise, mean-spirited, helpful, organized, etc.
We use these labels as a shortcut to getting to know each other, rather than seeking the soul within. We use labels to figure out how to work or talk with someone else (perhaps how to manipulate or use them).
Sometimes, labels can be part of a journey to healing. For example, when I first learned I was an introvert, it helped me understand why I didn’t wish to be in large crowds for long periods. When I learned I was an HSP (highly sensitive person), I understood that I needed to create routines, boundaries, and a lifestyle that supported that.
And when I learned that I was a Pioneer archetype, I realized that this is the reason I don’t like labels in the first place!
The Pioneer is always setting out on a new adventure — within ourselves or outside of ourselves; it doesn’t really matter. To the Pioneer, it’s all about the new frontier, the uncharted territory.
That’s where I live — in the territory beyond labels and titles…maybe even beyond all nouns. I live in the place where we morph from nouns to verbs: the place where we love, we create, we explore, we learn, we guide, we examine, we teach. And we do all this without worrying whether it fits within our defined job description or labels.
If by labeling ourselves one thing we exclude something else then we are limiting our life experiences to only those that can be experienced within that construct. In other words, labels that might initially free us by giving us some understanding about ourselves eventually confine us, trapping us in that same understanding of ourselves.
As souls, we agreed to be embodied in human form for some period of time in the Earth Realm. To our souls, this journey is one of adventure and exploration. I believe that our souls chose this life not because they thought it would be easy, but because they knew there was much to be learned in human skin that cannot be perceived as a soul.
To the question, “Why did God create humanity?” I like the answer, “So he could see himself.” And I think the same answer addresses the question, “Why did our souls choose this life?”
We’re here to see ourselves in all our different facets and capacities. We’re here to give and to receive. We’re here to caretake and be taken care of. We’re here to lead and to follow. To push and to pull.
Anytime we start telling ourselves that we have to be a certain way because it’s who we are, we deny ourselves the opportunity to explore its opposite. And in its opposite lies the greatest teachings.
Many teachers and programs suggest that our souls have a “purpose,” and will, for a bit of cash, help you find it.
But why? Why are we trying to do to our souls what we’ve already done to our humanity: cut them into bite-size, understandable, single-dimensioned labels?
How could a multi-faceted soul of pure possibility and potential be whittled down to a single thing or path?
Lose the purpose, gain the freedom
Our souls are manifestations of pure possibility and potential, like the universe itself. The universe doesn’t have a purpose. It is not driven by outcome or result. The universe will not be labeled as any one thing as it can do anything and everything or nothing at all (see: black holes).
“Purpose” is not soul language. Purpose is the language of the ego and the language of a society that wants everyone in their proper places.
Honestly, even hearing the word “purpose” jangles me. It sounds so hard, so driven, so unforgiving. And it acts just like it sounds — like an ultimatum.
Our souls don’t have a single purpose, nor is it our job to find something and stick with it for our entire lives. Neither should we beat ourselves up for “not finding it,” or live in fear of never finding it.
I say all of this because I’ve done all of this. When I left teaching yoga, I told myself I was leaving my life’s single purpose, and felt terrible and guilty about being pulled to try something new—even when I didn’t yet know what that was. When I practiced Ayurveda, I was stymied by believing it wasn’t my purpose and that I was trespassing on other people’s work. And when I studied healing touch, I was told that it was my purpose, but I didn’t feel the connection.
All of these things were confusing to me because of the mixed-in language of purpose. This madness made me question the inner voice inside me that knew when it was ready for a new adventure. That inner voice that got questioned was, of course, my soul.
If I’d never been taught that a soul is supposed to have a purpose, I would’ve moved through these various roles with greater ease—the kind of ease I have finally cultivated for myself.
I always think I’m quite lucky that my soul, who I call Séri, is so tenacious and persistent. She never lets me stay too long in any one walk of life — especially once I’ve learned what I needed to learn.
The hardest lesson
After I lost a yoga business into which I sank thousands of dollars over a decade ago, I harshly interrogated Séri.
I was certain that it was she who led me into this business in the first place. That this was her purpose, not mine, and I shouldn’t be punished for having followed it. I blamed her for the pain that came with the loss of this business that kept me wounded for quite some time.
What I learned, over time, was that while the spark did come from my soul, it was not for the reasons I believed—reasons that all had to do with reputation, status, and ego satisfaction.
My soul didn’t want to try this business because she was sure it would be successful or certain to bring me a lifetime of joy and contentment. She wanted it because she knew there were lessons and growth available. It was not her purpose. It was her adventure — for however long it lasted.
Why are we taking societal expectations and placing them on top of our spiritual growth? Why would we imagine that a soul path would be linear, rather than spiral like a seashell? Why do we shortchange ourselves by only using a tiny pinch of all the various soul gifts we came here with?
Our souls are here to learn and grow, and this can be done in any life situation, on any life path. There are no wrong turns from the soul’s perspective; no mistakes or reasons for regret.
The nature of the universe is creation. The nature of the soul is exploration. These things cannot be limited nor defined. And neither should we.
Remove the labels, reveal the soul
I invite you to see what happens when you dodge the many labels thrown at you by yourself and others. If a label comes and you embrace it, then commit to exploring what is true in you about its opposite. Use the labels as a way to grow our understanding of ourselves and each other, not as a way to shrink it. Find a healthy relationship with labels such that they deepen your experience, and do not contain it.
Do not fear shifting from one thing to the next. Do not let yourself get caught in the trap of having to do something because someone told you “It’s your purpose.” It’s not. It’s only a temporary skin that allows you to view and explore certain strengths and talents, as well as expose certain weaknesses and areas for growth. But this isn’t the only viewpoint available to us. From a universal perspective, how dare we not let the full rainbow of our gifts and talents be shared?
Return to a place before anyone told you you have to make something of yourself. Reclaim your curiosity and freedom. Play with all the different personality traits—they all live within you, every single one. Some, only in seed form, but with a little water, they too can grow.
Exercise new muscles, try out new languaging, learn a new skill. And let your business card say simply, “A soul, exploring this world with freedom and possibility.”
Let me end with these words from Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten”:
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten