This I Believe Draft: Labels Only Matter If You Let Them Stick

“Get up, Mary! Get back up!”

I had fallen, and for the first time in my life, I truly couldn’t lift myself up. In my very first game of high school basketball, everything came crashing down when I tried to save a ball from going out of bounds. After a very good first quarter, I thought I was off to a good start. In the middle of the second quarter, everything changed. When I planted my foot to save the ball, I heard the most distinct tearing sound I’ve ever heard in my life. While I saved the ball and got it to my teammate, I couldn’t save myself. I could hear my mom from across the gym yelling at me to get up. She knew it was what I always did, no matter how hard I got hit. I think a part of me knew in that moment that this injury wasn’t like others. This was the injury that changed the perception of myself.

After walking around for a week in torture, denying the fact that the injury was serious, I eventually went to the doctor. After an MRI, I learned that my biggest fear had come true. I had torn my ACL, would have to get surgery, and would ultimately spend a year in rehab if I ever wanted to return to basketball. Up until this point, being someone who was good at basketball was a part of my identity. I soon realized that I could no longer be defined as someone who was “good at basketball” because I physically couldn’t play. It was a judgement that no longer held true because it was something I used to be.

People are often misconstrued based on what others think about them. It is easy for other people to define someone they don’t know as a single thing or a single trait. When people place their identity in certain people, or talents, or characteristics, the other parts of them are left unnoticed. However, we as humans are much more than one characteristic. Individuals can struggle with their identity when they succumb to the public perception of themselves, whether that be good or bad. When we let other people label who we are, a person’s successes and failures are all attributed to the one thing that people think they are, giving a person no substance as anything more than an outside opinion.

Understanding that I was more than what people thought of me was something I really struggled with throughout my rehab process. The process allowed me to regain physical strength, but also helped me build a “mental toughness” I didn’t have before. I struggled to come to terms with who I would be because I believed in only what others thought I was and not what was actually true in my life. When people try to define you as one thing, anything you do outside of those boundaries is made to be insignificant. I thought if I didn’t have this identity, I didn’t matter. At first, my motivation for returning to basketball was driven in trying to regain this lost “sense of self”. Only when I realized that I needed to let go of this false identity did I learn that the label that was placed on me didn’t have to be the label for my entire life.

More than who I was on a basketball court, I started to notice who I was off of it. Regardless of how broken I felt, people still believed that this didn’t have to be such a negative part of life, and that I could use to learn and use it to grow. While basketball was never the same for me, I learned to be better in other ways. I was able to let go of the single thing I thought defined me. I aimed to become better holistically, in the way I presented myself to the world, my relationships with others, and achieving other goals that weren’t linked to basketball.

After such a difficult time in my life, letting go of a label and becoming someone known for my internal qualities mattered much more than any performance I could have had on the basketball court. I would much rather be remembered as someone who was a good person than someone who was good at basketball. The identity I found within myself far surpassed any label given to me by those around me. I found an inner strength in the belief that labels only have to matter, if you let them stick.

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