Friday, February 3, 2017

The Problem With Labels

I've been struggling with this issue for quite some time, but in the last few months it has become
more apparent than ever.  The issue is I hate labels, no not the kind you use to mail a package or sew inside your clothing, but the labels used to categorize people.  I know hate is a strong word and I try not to use it, I honestly wish there was something stronger to use  in this case as I'm not sure that hate clearly articulates how much I really, really don't like labels.

There are many words that describe who I am, either now or in my past

  • Human
  • Blogger
  • Photographer
  • Teacher
  • World traveler
  • Geek
  • Bookworm
  • Mother
  • Daughter
  • Wife

These are just a few, but none of these define who I am as a person.  They are but a small part of who I am.  All of these labels aren't the problem.  The problem is the bias and perception that rears its head when people hear a label and they automatically assume they know everything about you.

Labels bias our perceptions, thinking and behavior.  Before, you take offense bias isn't always a bad thing.  It is a natural part of human behavior. The brain is constantly looking for ways to process information.  One way to do this is to look for patterns to categorize things with labels for easy recall. The problem is there are always exception to the rule, but some people don't take those exceptions into account.   "I met one person who was a {fill in the blank} therefore everybody in this category is just like them."   How do you know from a sample size of one whether you met the rule or an exception to the rule?  

I normally try to ignore when I encounter biases based on labels, but lately it seems to be getting worse.   I am a mom.  But labeling me as a mom isn't enough I get sub-categorized as a working mom or an adoptive mom or mom of a special needs child.  Then within each of these groups there are additional labels and classifications. Each label comes with it's own unique set of preconceived notions about what that means.  

I am a female working in the tech industry.   I have held many roles including technical support, client services, sales engineer, product engineering and product marketing.   Each of these roles has required me to possess a high degree of technical knowledge.  Unfortunately when people hear my current title "Director of Product & Solution Marketing"  they assume I am not technical.  At the end of last year I had an article rejected from a publication because I am in marketing and was told in the future have somebody more technical submit an article.   I know I am technical, but I couldn't get past the label and bias associated with my title.   I will continue to encounter this bias and will continue to try to change people's perception of who I am.  

Over the past 15 years I have come to expect this type of bias at work but that doesn't make it less frustrating.  What I am more disheartened by is the pervasiveness of negative labels being used to categorize people with a difference of opinion from our own.  When did being a conservative or a liberal become a bad thing?   How have the definitions of these morphed into something unrecognizable and been turned into derogatory insults.  As soon as a word is uttered in disagreement, you are labeled as a liberal, a "libtard", a conservative, a "deplorable"  or whatever the insult of the day is.   

Broad, sweeping generalizations are damaging and don't allow us to see past a label to an individual.  And unfortunately once a label has been applied it is very difficult to get out from underneath it.   While labels are a natural way for our brain to process information, we need to work hard to ensure that the labels don't morph into damaging, negative stereotypes and a resulting lack of empathy.  

I tell my son on a regular basis that he doesn't have to like everybody he meets but he still needs to treat them with respect.   This is becoming harder to do when we seem to be constantly surrounded by negativity.  I will continue to look for the positives and the good in the world and do my best to fight my bias and see past labels.  


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Looking back and forward

10 years ago today I wrote my first blog post.  When I started it was a way for me to share information on my travels and life living abroad with family and friends back home. This was before the days of Facebook, well maybe it existed but it wasn’t used as widely as it is today.   As my life changed the blog did as well.   I never imagined when I started this blog how big a part of my life it would be today – not personally, but professionally.   I don’t blog as much personally but now a big part of my job is to blog.  Maybe because I spend so much of my days writing for work, I’m burnt out at the end of the day.   Or maybe I’m burnt out at the end of the day because I am now wrangling a cat, a dog, a husband and an 8 year old. 

It’s strange to look back over the last 10 years and think about how much things have changed.   That one tiny decision I made to move to London has changed my life in many ways.   Had I never left Boston, I may have never moved to Seattle.   If I didn’t move to Seattle I would not have met Dave.  If I hadn’t met Dave I would not have moved to Colorado.  If I didn’t move to Colorado, junior would not be my son.   Were the last 10 years all great, no.  There were some definite hardships and tears but today there is no place else I would rather be.  (Disclaimer:  right now I’m sitting in an airport getting, heading out on a business trips.  There are many places I would rather be than at the airport, but you know what I mean).  


Through these moves I have met some amazing people, developed lasting friendships, and learned a great deal about myself.   Sitting here thinking about the past, I can’t help but think of the future.  Not knowing what the future holds is always a scary thing for me.   While I am scared I am also hopeful and optimistic.  One of our family traditions at bed time is to discuss what our favorite part of the day is.  Even when a day is dreary and miserable we have to focus on the positive.   To dwell on the negatives is not good.   I will continue to take risks, speak my mind, and attempt to be a positive influence to others.   I may even blog about it.     

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 Year in Review

2016 was a rough year, at some times it seems like there were more lows than highs.  But one thing we are teaching junior is no matter how bad a day is there is always a positive in it.  Instead of focusing on the negatives I choose to look at the highlights.  Last night at dinner we shared our top five favorite moments of the year.

This isn't as easy as it seems, especially when people keep changing their minds.  Junior decided he needed to give us six items, and I was told I cheated with one of my selections.

Here are the top moments for our family.

Me

  1. Starting a new job.  I was fortunate to find a job that enabled me to work part time as we moved to Seattle in 2015.   In 2016 I was ready to go back to work full time, unfortunately the company I was working for was unable to offer me a full time position, but a great opportunity came my way.    I am still working from home which is great and trips to the company's headquarters enable me to visit family and friends which is an added perk.   
  2. Renovating our new home.   You may think I'm crazy but I enjoy remodeling projects.  Well I enjoy choosing materials, I dislike the unexpected surprises that often appear.  One unexpected find on our recent renovation led to our installing my favorite feature in the house - a hidden bookshelf door.    What else do you do when you find a water heater sealed behind drywall in the master bedroom. 
  3. Vacations and travel throughout the year.   I was told I cheated with this selection and I couldn't lump all vacations together as they were not all equal.  I say hogwash.   I love to travel and explore new places.   Vacations this year took us to visit family and friends, attend opening day at Wrigley Field and see the team that would go on to become the World Series Champions,  and spend time relaxing on the beach.  I also managed a weekend away with a friend to knock another state off my list and visited South Dakota. Only four more states to go.








       
  4. Concerts at the zoo.   We took junior to his first concert, Weird Al, at the zoo.  He loves his music and we liked the fact that when he got bored there was a supervised play area we could take him to.  Dave and I also went to see Brandi Carlile there, I think this was the fifth time we've seen her and I never get tired of her shows.  
  5. Junior's new school.   The 2014-2015 school year was rough and stressful.   Over the summer we made the tough decision to enroll junior in a new private school that was opening near our house.  Three months in and I would say it was absolutely the right decision.  He is having a much better year and the school is willing to work with us and figure out strategies that work for junior.  Being in the right environment makes such a difference.   I love that he gets upset when he can't go to school because he is sick or there is a holiday.   

Dave's list
  1. Cubs winning the World Series.   (No surprise this was #1 on his list). 
  2.  Oceanside Christmas vacation. 
  3.  Visiting his brother in San Francisco during March Madness.
  4.  Cubs Opening Day at Wrigley Field. 
  5.  Fremont's Heron Hunting Club.  (Also no surprise that something beer related made the list).  

Junior's list
  1.  Helping Paddy with her legs.  The dog is getting old and has arthritis.  Junior is responsible for giving her medicine to help with the arthritis every morning.   
  2. Getting a new house.  
  3. Spending time with the family.  
  4. Playing in the snow. 
  5. Eating at the pig truck.  Ever since junior saw a TV show about places to eat in Seattle that featured Maximus and Minimus he wanted to eat there.  This summer his wish came true.
  6. Learning martial arts at school.   (This was added after I mentioned him going to a new school)