You are not a ninja: six words never to use to describe yourself

People bestow a lot of titles on themselves these days, and social media is full of folks calling themselves grandiose things like “Influencer” and “Thought leader.” Looking at LinkedIn today, I found tons of profiles featuring these very words.

What ever happened to humility? What kind of person calls themselves an “influencer” with a straight face? (I added the title ESQ. to my profile for a while, but, you know, as a joke).

Times have changed, I guess.

But that doesn’t mean that one should go around bestowing titles upon oneself. Let’s take a look at some of these titles, and why you should (almost) never use them in reference to yourself.

Influencer: Let’s start here. Now, I have to admit that these days it’s OK to call yourself an “Influencer” under certain circumstances. “Influencer marketing” is a recognized form of marketing. So, if you can actively demonstrate that you have an influence on the market, you can put the title in your resume and online profiles. How that is demonstrated is up for debate, but being an “influencer” is a viable way to raise brand awareness, and as such is a permissible job title for one who is selling one’s “Influencer” marketing services. But if, like the vast majority of these people, the number of people you are following on social media either outweighs or is matched by the number of followers you have, you are not an influencer. Call yourself a social media “professional” if you like, but not an “Influencer.”

Guru. Do you know what a guru is? “Guru” is a Sanskrit word that describes a teacher deserving of special reverence – one who dispels darkness, to be specific. So, you’re only a “guru” if you actually teach others or guide them in whatever it is you’re good at, and even then it’s usually used to refer to spiritual teachers, and the title of “guru” is usually given by another guru or by respectful students. One does not bestow the title of “guru” upon oneself, and being a decent coder or developer or whatever does not make you a “guru.” Calling yourself a “guru” is weird.

Ninja. Look, there is no such thing as an “HR ninja.” That doesn’t even make sense. A ninja is  a “covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan,” the functions of which include “espionage, sabotage, infiltration, assassination and guerrilla warfare.” So, unless you are sneaking around in the dead of night and beheading potential job candidates with a katana, or murdering them with throwing stars (which would be counter productive, not to mention a very bad thing to be doing) you are not a ninja. You’re an HR professional.

Rock Star. Like “guru,” if someone wants to label you a “rock star,” by all means, let them. Like if your manager introduces you to a colleague as their “marketing rock star,” that’s a nice compliment. But it’s not something you call yourself. Even if you’re standing in front of a packed stadium shouting “Hello Cleveland!” Let others call you a rock star. Don’t call yourself one.

Thought leader. This is a very overused term these days, and there are countless self-proclaimed “thought leaders” running around on the internet. LinkedIn is crowded with them. But what does it mean? The simplest definition of the “thought leader” is this: “One whose views on a subject are taken to be authoritative and influential.” They don’t mean by, like, your kids or your mom. They mean by other people, outside your immediate family and circle. If this is not you, you cannot call yourself a “thought leader.”

Visionary. A visionary is someone who can see into the future, or who demonstrates amazing foresight and imagination. This label is usually applied to people who make massive shifts in their industries by predicting markets and, taking huge risks and laughing in the face of the status quo. Steve Jobs was a visionary, Elon Musk is a visionary. You might be a visionary (I don’t want to tell you that you can’t be anything you want to be), but you have to prove it before you can claim the title. And even then, the classy thing to do is to wait for someone else to call you one.

Expert. An expert is someone who knows everything – or at least more than 99% of the population – about their subject. Or is more skilled than 99% of the population in whatever it is they’re skilled at. So, yes, there are some people out there who can call themselves “experts” but they are few and far between. If you are very good at what you do, you’re a “specialist,” not an expert. If you call yourself an “expert,” you better be ready to prove it.

If you noticed a theme here, it’s that these names are best left to others to bestow upon you. Calling yourself a “visionary” or “thought leader” makes you look deluded at worst, and egomaniacal at best.

If you want to be these things, work as hard as you possibly can to become the best and brightest in your field so that others will recognize you as such.

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