Are the Ways You Label Yourself Holding You Back?


My husband did most of the cooking for the first seven years we were married. I claimed that I couldn’t cook—or more specifically that I didn’t cook anything beyond sloppy joes, crescent sloppy joes, and egg salad.

In reality, it wasn’t so much that I was a bad cook as that I was afraid to try. The occasional attempt at trying to cook something new seemed to reinforce that cooking wasn’t for me.

I remember wanting to make a special dinner to celebrate our one month wedding anniversary (and by special I meant that I would actually try cooking something). It took me a while to find a recipe I could make with what I had on hand. My husband had driven the car to school. Also, it was early February in Wisconsin and the nearest store was miles away.

My attempt at potato soup boiled over on the stove while I was in the other room trying to look up the exact meaning of simmer. Seriously. Needless to say, the soup was almost too thick to be edible and clean up was quite an ordeal.

After that, I made occasional attempts at cooking, which usually ended in tears. I didn’t practice consistently enough to make much progress.

Then, my husband changed jobs and it turned out that I had a lot more time to prepare dinner than he did. I finally had the push I needed to dig in and try to learn to cook.

I found a couple of food bloggers who shared recipes with short ingredient lists and simple techniques. I gave myself plenty of time to prepare each meal so I wouldn’t be rushed or stressed. Once I was cooking most days, I gained knowledge, developed skills, and increased my confidence.

Over the past few years, the list of meals I’m willing to cook has expanded exponentially. And yet, I’m still hesitant to claim that I know how to cook.

Why is that?

Do I have more to learn? Yes. Does it still take me far longer than the estimated prep time to complete a recipe? Yes. Am I going to win any awards or open a restaurant any time soon? Nope. Do I want to? Nope.

Can I consistently make meals that we enjoy eating? Yes. Do I get compliments and recipe requests from guests? Yes. Does this satisfy my ambitions for cooking? Yes.

Why is it so much easier to keep claiming that I can’t do something than to acknowledge the progress I’ve made? There are many contributing factors, but that doesn’t mean we have to stay stuck.


Unless I’m a gourmet chef, I can’t call myself a cook. Unless I publish a book that gets on the bestseller lists I can’t call myself a writer. Until I finish a marathon I can’t call myself a runner. (Ok, I really can’t call myself a runner, but that’s because I genuinely and emphatically choose not to run.)

There is something in many of us that hesitates to claim to be able to do something until we’re an expert. But that doesn’t reflect reality. We don’t go straight from complete incompetence to mastery. Developing any skill is a process.

What does I know how to cook really mean anyway? There is always something more to learn.

Fear of Criticism/Hope for Validation

We don’t want to seem arrogant. We don’t want to claim an identity or skill only to have someone tell us we’re not good enough to do so. We think we need to let others decide which labels we can claim.

It’s more comfortable to keep expectations low. If we claim to be able to do something we must be able to back that claim with satisfactory evidence of our skill. If we claim that we can’t, however, there is the hope that others will rush to reassure us that we’re better than we profess to be.


It’s hard to change our well-worn thought patterns . When we’re used to seeing ourselves a certain way, it can take time to adjust our self-concept to fit a new reality.

For a time, claiming that I couldn’t cook served me in a way. It gave me an excuse to avoid trying something new when I was afraid I wouldn’t measure up. Just because I’ve outgrown my need for that excuse doesn’t mean my way of thinking about myself has kept pace.

Now, of course, the important thing here isn’t whether or not I correctly describe my cooking ability. Instead, how do the words we think or say about ourselves encourage us forward or hold us back? It isn’t the particular words themselves that matter, but rather, the beliefs they indicate.

Does my hesitance to call myself a cook keep me limited, afraid to try? Is it a sign that I’m not able to see my progress. Is it another way I tell myself I’m never enough?

Or is it simply an area where my vocabulary hasn’t caught up with my growth?

Where do I use this same kind of limiting labeling besides my cooking ability? What about when I claim that I’m not good at making friends? Or that I’ll never have a successful career? Or that I’m not good at saying no? What about when I label myself as a perfectionist or people-pleaser?

It takes practice to change our thought patterns. We make it that much harder for ourselves when we try to switch to describing ourselves in a way we’re not ready to believe. I’m finding that a more helpful option is to choose words that are realistic about where I am on the journey.

Instead of trying to make the mental leap from saying I can’t cook to I am a cook, a more realistic claim would be that I’m learning to cook or that my cooking ability fits my life.

Instead of limiting myself with the excuse that I’m not good at making friends, I can say that I’m practicing reaching out to people I’d like to spend time with.

Instead of labeling myself as a people-pleaser or claiming to not care what anyone else thinks, it’s more helpful to remind myself that I’m learning to value my own opinions and practicing setting boundaries.

I’d love to know…what are some ways you label yourself that might actually be holding you back? What gets in the way of describing yourself differently? How can you celebrate your progress and shift your language to more accurately reflect where you are right now?