Posts Tagged ‘limits’

Limits & Labels

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

Have I told you how much I hate limitations, especially the ones that are put on people? And I hate labels! When someone is limited by a label, it makes me crazy.

It drives me nuts when I hear someone label a kid. People, and especially kids, usually live up to expectations, and labels are a form of expectations. If a teen is labeled with “hyperactive and impulsive,” his subconscious will do what it can to make this expectation come true. If someone is “not so bright,” you can bet he or she will try to live up to that expectation. No, not consciously, but subconsciously…

Have I told you how much I hate limitations, especially the ones that are put on people? And I hate labels! When someone is limited by a label, it makes me crazy.

It drives me nuts when I hear someone label a kid. People, and especially kids, usually live up to expectations, and labels are a form of expectations. If a teen is labeled with “hyperactive and impulsive,” his subconscious will do what it can to make this expectation come true. If someone is “not so bright,” you can bet he or she will try to live up to that expectation. No, not consciously, but subconsciously. That’s just the way our brains work.

I’ve trained and coached a lot of teens – thousands of them. And the one thing that I’ve had to do more often than you can imagine is undo what labels and limits they’ve had put on them. The real sad cases involved comments from the teen such as, “My dad says I’ll never be able to do this” or, “I’m never patient enough – my mom tells me that all the time. I guess she’s right.”

Often, before I can do any training or coaching, I’ve got to spend time opening the teen’s mind to the possibility that they are not what they’ve been told they are. I’ve got to help them see the possibilities, again.

I believe we are all born with limitless possibilities, but as we age, more and more limits are put on us. Think about it. When kids are 3 or 5 years old, they dream about being astronauts, fire fighters, dragon-slayers, and even race car drivers (I had to throw that in – that was my dream at age 5). They don’t know there are limits to what they can do. It’s only through being told over and over again “you can’t do that” that they start to put limits on their dreams. The labels limit their creativity, and they limit their imagination.

Fortunately, I’ve also worked with some teens who have not had limits placed on their dreams, or who they are. One of them became the youngest driver in history to win a major professional auto race, and has gone on to sign a long-term contract (with substantial financial rewards) with one of the top NASCAR teams. Another was accepted into the leading journalism school in the country at the age of 16, with the largest scholarship the school offers. He did this without ever going to a public school (he was homeschooled), and after publishing his first novel at age 14. At 17, he’s had numerous articles published by major publications throughout the world.

But, even positive labels can be limiting. For example, someone labeled as an “expert” in one field is rarely seen as being able to be great in some other area. Sure, there are exceptions to this, but usually the person had to break through a barrier – a limiting label – to get there.

I’ve experienced this myself. Since I had been labeled as somewhat of an “expert” in the field of driving and driver training, people put limits on me in other areas: “How could Ross be great at _____? That’s not his expertise – he’s an expert in driving, coaching and training, but not in _____.”

Have you ever experienced the negative impact of a label? If so, comments are welcome.

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