Labels are for Cans

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among my students: labels. I don’t know if they are self-labelers or if someone else is labeling them. Regardless, it bothers me.

A while back I met with one of my students to talk to him about his future plans, both academically and career-wise. This student is very ambitious and will likely make it big. He is bright and knows what he wants. In the midst of our conversation, he mentioned that he is OCD. Curious, I asked him more about it. It turns out, he’s not really OCD (at least, he doesn’t have an official diagnosis) but he seems to label himself that way as a method for explaining himself to his friends. You see, he’s really organized and quite particular. He’s very detail-oriented. He’s driven. Apparently these are characteristics rare in college students.

A couple of weeks ago, I met with another student to discuss his courses and figure out what type of minor would best suit his future aspirations. He, too, turns out to be ambitious. He’s a strong writer and understands the importance of details. He loves learning about how to do things “the right way,” meaning, following an established standard. He engrosses himself in learning about computers and a variety of software, even though he’s not required to do so. Sadly, he, too, labels himself as OCD (again without an official diagnosis).

With both of these students, I think they intentionally take a defensive stance by labeling themselves. Identify yourself before someone else sticks a label on you. I can relate to this idea. I admit that I call myself a “geek” or say that I’m “crazy” so that no one else has to. I try to own it and accept the way I am. That being said, however, I hate that they label themselves as OCD when really, they are two students who deserve praise for working hard to improve themselves and to be the best that they can. If anything, they should label themselves as driven and detail-oriented. It’s a shame that their peers don’t appreciate them for who they really are.

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