I Don’t Like Labels: Not-so-Zen SK

(Disclaimer: #AudioBlog will likely not be available this week because of previous-mentioned issues I hope will resolve soon. So please enjoy this week’s read itself. 💜)

I have a problem.

A problem I created…myself.

A problem many of us create for ourselves – without even realizing it.

That problem?

Feeling limited because of a self-imposed label.

Yep. ‘Zen SK’ has been holding me back.

For those of you who haven’t been religiously reading along every week, ‘Zen SK’ is a nickname I had been referring to myself as recently – you know, the girl on a quest to ‘better’ herself, who documents her journey in self-exploration weekly and who always leave the reader with a lesson – something I’ve been doing for 13 weeks now.

While the journey is an admirable attempt to do something during quarantine and something that is essential for growth (did I just compliment myself? I think so…), the problem isn’t with the journey itself – it is with the label of ‘Zen SK’ and my own interpretation of what that means.


Let’s rewind a bit.

Recently I had been feeling an internal discomfort (maybe it’s that Inner Chiropractor visiting), and had a feeling I knew what was causing it.

It was a concern I had been sitting with for a while, an awareness that I hoped would resolve itself, but…unfortunately, hadn’t.

I had lost my spark. My essence. A core part of my personality.

My humor.

Earlier this month, I confided in Andrea that I was struggling because I had nowhere to showcase my comedic self – an essential aspect of my pre-‘Zen SK’ identity.

In fact, I wasn’t even sure if ‘being funny’ was really me at all – that aspect of me seemed to be missing from all of my creative expression.

The only time any semblance of it emerged was in conversation – which, because of my self-imposed summer shutdown of any outside influences, happened infrequently (yes, like a Buddhist monk, I didn’t really talk to many people – silence was key in my ‘process’ of self-reflection – minus my periodic interactions with my parents and my semi-regular evening calls with Andrea. Though admittedly, I relapsed July 11 weekend at my cousin Zain’s COVID wedding in Sacramento; I had a socially-distant audience – and a personality hangover the next day. Yes, that’s what happens when you go conversational-performance-hard one night after 5 weeks of being sober from human, and specifically peer, interaction.)

Sure, I had this blog as an expression of self. But…even when I wanted to express my comedic self, I couldn’t actually summon my humor for some reason.

This past week, I finally realized why.

INNER VOICE: What is preventing you from expressing your sense of humor?

SK: My inability to be funny.

INNER VOICE: What makes you think you can’t be funny?

SK: Nothing is coming to me.

INNER VOICE: Do you need to express your comedic side to believe you are funny?

SK: Yes

INNER VOICE: Where is your current display of expression taking place?

SK: Outside of my evening phone calls? This blog, social media.

INNER VOICE: What are you expressing there?

SK: Self-exploration, the ‘Zen SK’ journey.

INNER VOICE: What does Zen mean?

SK: Perfection.

INNER VOICE: So you labeled yourself and in turn limited your expression. You created a new identity without knowing it.

SK: What?

INNER VOICE: Your label is preventing you from expressing yourself in any way that doesn’t fall in line with your definition of ‘Zen’ – it would challenge who you think you now are.

SK: So you’re saying the reason I can’t be funny is because my subconscious is attached to living up to my perception of what it means to be ‘Zen SK’?

INNER VOICE: You won’t allow yourself be funny. Or sad. Or angry. Or real. Only zen. Your new, limiting identity.

Yeah. In the process of what I thought was self-discovery, I had lost an essential part of…myself.

I knew obvious identity labels (gender, race, religion) could be limiting because of my own life experiences, but…were any and all labels – even seemingly inconsequential ones like a nickname or simply an adjective used to describe oneself – obstacles that prevented people from living (or expressing) truthfully?

Did strict adherence to a descriptive label like ‘Zen SK’ subconsciously influence what I felt I was allowed to do? A recurring theme from my life? A girl can’t do this. A Pakistani Muslim shouldn’t wear that. A journalist can’t tweet this. Zen SK means you can’t post that.

Because truthfully, as ‘Zen SK’ the pressure to constantly deliver some profound lesson or bit of wisdom every week resulted in feeling exhausted, especially times when I felt anything less than ‘Zen’, or when I had a more playful idea to explore.

In a way, it almost felt like living a lie.

(Which now reminds me of the lesson of blog #5, my issues with rigidity to rules and my inner need for permission to do things. Clearly, I still had work to do in this area.)

Basically – my inner Larry David wanted to come out and play sometimes, but my dominant Oprah suppressed it – because I subconsciously had formed an attachment to this ‘Zen SK’ identity (which only allowed me to lean in to my inner Oprah, because it was deemed more appropriate and in line with this identity.)

Could the Oprah and Larry David sides of myself co-exist (and co-express) peacefully? Did I need to retire this ‘Zen SK’ nickname (and all other labels) to allow myself true freedom to embrace all aspects of me? To stop living a lie? To be more of me?

INNER VOICE: Is it the label that is limiting or your absolute definition of it?

SK: What do you mean?

INNER VOICE: You are the one that is not allowing your other side to shine, because you don’t think it fits with the label.

SK: Okay. Sure, but even if I change my definition of label, other people will still adhere to society’s general definition of it.

INNER VOICE: Why is that important?

SK: Because if I’m ‘Zen SK’ and then I project something un-Zen like, I’ll be judged or criticized for not being 100% Zen.

INNER VOICE: Can anyone be 100 percent of one thing all the time?

SK: I am 100 percent human.

INNER VOICE: Other than that.

SK: Probably not. But people think they are. I feel like society makes you feel like you have to be all or nothing of some label, based on their definition of what that label means, and if you don’t, you’re criticized or judged.

INNER VOICE: Why are you concerned about criticism and judgment?

SK: I don’t like being judged.

INNER VOICE: What does judgment mean?

SK: That you are doing something wrong.

INNER VOICE: So really, it is a need for approval, seeking permission.

SK: I guess…

INNER VOICE: What are they judging?

SK: In this case? Being Zen enough.

INNER VOICE: How do you know they are judging or holding you to a standard?

SK: I don’t know.

INNER VOICE: Can you ever control someone else’s judgment of you?

SK: No

INNER VOICE: Your definition of what it means to be 100 percent Zen may be someone else’s definition of what it means to be 75 percent Zen. You will never win.

SK: So really, labels are useless.

INNER VOICE: Useless, unless your desired outcome is suffering or inadequacy. Reject your need to not be judged. You can’t control it. Give yourself permission to be you, not your self-imposed label.


Some of you may have been thinking, “Zen SK seems so positive, so aspirational, why is that label a problem? Shouldn’t that be everyone’s #lifegoals?

But the truth is – positivity isn’t the goal of self-expression or self-discovery.

Authenticity is.

And while I have Oprah-like aspects of positivity, I also can be a bit Larry David. And in leaning in to my Oprah, I neglected other parts of me that were equally valuable (because I didn’t think those aspects were permissible in this journey.)

And while there’s nothing wrong with striving to be zen-like (i.e. Oprah), the problem was embracing the ‘Zen SK’ nickname; in doing so, I subconsciously embraced an identity that had its own limitations – I felt I could only present myself in that one way.

Any other expression, comedic or otherwise, was subconsciously repressed (likely because of a need for approval, in terms of doing things the societal-deemed ‘right’ way, based on my identifying label.)

Yes, even a seemingly positive label/identity can be problematic when it comes to living truthfully.

And if a simple self-imposed label could change aspects of myself in just a couple months, imagine how limiting a more serious identity-defining label might be? A label/identity attachment one’s had for years or decades or…a lifetime?

A career label, a religious label, a personality label, a family label, even a Taylor Swift fan label..it all can be limiting (yes, there were times when I felt I needed to change the radio station whenever a song by someone who betrayed Taylor played…even if I lowkey liked the song.)

How many of us are unconsciously suppressing aspects of ourselves because of labels and the perception of what we think we are allowed to do or not do? Because of fear of judgment? And/or fear of not being accepted?

I don’t know the answer. (I will likely explore this topic further in a future blog post, the start of an #IDontLikeLabels series of blogs, perhaps?)

For now, all I know is…I don’t want to be limited by labels. I just want to be me. All of me.

Recommended Listening: John Legend All of Me

What would I do without your smart mouth?
Drawing me in, and you kicking me out
You’ve got my head spinning,
No kidding,
I can’t pin you down
What’s going on in that beautiful mind
I’m on your magical mystery ride…
And all of me, loves all of you

(Because I want to embrace “All of Me” – not just some aspects of me. We are all multi-faceted and no one is perfect – well, except maybe Oprah. Enjoy. I’ll see you guys next week. – 💜SK)

ICYMI…PREVIOUS BLOG POST: Who Were You When You Were Five? Discover Your Authentic Self

START THE JOURNEY FROM BLOG #1: Am I Too Scared To Start Things?

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Email Samia Khan directly!