by Vicki Schutter

Have you ever thought about what you would like to be known for? I'm not talking about things you WISH you could do, like leading the first mission to Mars, or being given the Lifetime Achievement Oscar, or having one of your paintings auctioned off for a million dollars. I'm talking about things you actually do or have done. Of those, what would you like to be known for? People will say, "The woman who ______," or "The man who ______". How would you like that blank filled in? The other day I had to call Accounts Payable to ask about my boss' Travel Expense Statement. He has me do that a lot, because he's so anxious to make sure he gets every penny he thinks is due him. This man is even stingier than I am (which probably makes those of you who know me shudder), only he has a lot more to be stingy with than I do. So he tells me to call Accounts Payable about his precious money and, even though I hate doing it with all my heart and soul, I do ... because I know deep down inside that his money is more important than my job. So I make the call, and just as I finish dialing the extension, the professor with the loudest mouth in the entire department comes in to talk of my officemate. A different woman than usual answers the phone, and I start trying to explain to her what I want, all the while Dr. Bullhorn is trying to explain to my officemate what HE wants. This is a situation which is NOT conducive to fluent speech. What made it even worse was that the woman I was talking to was having pretty much the same problem. No, no, I don't mean she stuttered. I mean someone was talking to her at the same time she was trying to wade through all my blocks and figure out what I was trying to say. Finally, I heard the woman "whisper," "Ssssshhhhh! It's that girl who stutters!" "That girl who stutters." So that's how I'm known on the Rice University campus. Makes you think of that old TV show, doesn't it? Instead of "That Girl", suppose it was "That Girl Who Stutters" and Marlo Thomas had a severe speech impediment? Yeah, I like that. Maybe I'll suggest that idea to a network president the next time I have the ear of one of them (which is every time they want to know my favorite show, so they'll known which one to cancel). Anyway, that made me think. Whether we like it or not, labels are a part of our lives. When someone is talking about you, he is not going to say, "That guy who was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1948 and went to Smith High School and then went to Jones College where he got a bachelor's degree in ..." No, of course not. They are going to pick the one thing that is closest to being unique about you and, therefore, will probably enable their listener to recognize who they're talking about: "the girl who stutters," "the black guy in the Ku Klux Klan," "the man who always wears plaid pants with polka-dotted shirts," etc. The advantage, such that it is, to labels like mine is that people on campus know who I am. I am not an anonymous figure. The disadvantage is that what they know me for is talking weird, and I'm fairly certain that's NOT what I want to be known for. So what DO I want to be known for? Let's see ... Since my ego, at this particular point in my life, is at an all-time low, how I would most like to be known is as "the gorgeous girl that all the terrific guys want to go out with." I guess that doesn't fall into the realism criterion that I insisted upon at the beginning, though, so I'll have to come up with something else. I know my friends and family think of me as "the girl who loves cats." I know that because over half of the birthday cards I got had cats on them. Actually, I don't mind being known for that, since I'm quite sure that cat lovers are very intelligent, well-bred, sensitive people. I would like however, for them to also think of me as "the woman who is a good friend" and "the woman who is always there for me." I would also like to be known as "the woman who is honest," "the woman who is sincere," "the woman who laughs a lot," "the woman who is generous" (okay, I'm reaching for that one), and "the friend who is loyal." "The woman with the nice smile" is how I would like for people who pass me on the street to think of me. That brings me back to my original question: What do you want to be known for? If labels much be given to you (and they most certainly will be), which ones do you prefer?

added with permission of the author
May 21, 1999