Man with an attitude wearing a suit and shades

Five words you should never use in reference to yourself

Elizabeth Bromstein|

People can call themselves just about anything these days.

I was on Twitter selecting people to follow and noticed that there are a lot of folks out there calling themselves “influencers.”

And I thought, “What does that even mean?”

Influencers, gurus, thought leaders…they’re all over the place.

Because the web is a lot of smoke and mirrors, a great number of people get away with taking on super-impressive, authoritative-sounding titles, when in reality, they’re neither impressive nor authorities (someone can have hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers and still be jobless and living in their parents’ basement. You buy the followers, call yourself a “thought leader,” and Bob’s your uncle).

I get it. They’re just trying to market themselves, but, at the same time, the now common practice of bestowing some ridiculously pompous label upon oneself is getting old.

I would like to put forth the suggestion that we put a stop to it. And ask that, if you are one of the people perpetuating the trend, you please cut it out.

Here are five things that, in my opinion, people should never call themselves.

Influencer: You can’t label yourself an “influencer.” That’s a title others have to bestow upon you. And, once they do, it’s only OK for them to say it. When you say it, you sound like a dork. An “influencer” is someone who influences people to do things – like change the world, make particular fashion choices, or eat in certain restaurants. They are usually able to do this because they are particularly cool and people want to emulate them, or are inspired by them. Calling yourself an “influencer” is totally uncool, and uncool people don’t influence anyone.

Guru: The guru market is really oversaturated these days. Twitter is full of these people. There are hundreds of thousands calling themselves “fitness guru,” “social media guru,” “beauty guru,” “tech guru,” “marketing guru” and more. There’s no law. Technically, you are allowed to call yourself a guru. But, really, the designation of guru (Sanskrit for “teacher”) should be bestowed upon you by another guru, and only once you have achieved realization. Like calling yourself an “influencer,” calling yourself a “guru” is sort of tacky. Also, don’t call yourself a “rock star” or a “ninja.” Robert Plant is a rock star. A ninja is a covert agent from feudal Japan. You are neither of these things.

Expert: There is the odd person who can call themselves an “expert,” but far too many do. There are hundreds of thousands of “experts” out there. As such, the self-assigned label means pretty much nothing. If you are one of the many “social media experts” out there with around 200 Twitter followers, you might want to rethink your title. If you’re going to call yourself one, be prepared to prove it. So, if you call yourself, say, a marketing, early childhood education, or analytics “expert,” when people come asking questions, you better have all the answers. If you don’t, I suggest you change your title to “specialist.”

God/Goddess: The only time this works is when you’re some sort of glamour model, like Ice-T’s wife, Coco. Otherwise, it’s just off-putting, like “tech goddess,” “web goddess,” and, of course, the inevitable “social media goddess.” This one isn’t as common as the others, but I was just told a story about a candidate who was rejected outright because she called herself a “goddess” on her resume. So, I thought I’d better include it. Don’t make the same mistake.

Thought leader: Again, there are thousands of self-proclaimed “thought leaders” out there. I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record here (people under 30 will just have to look that one up) but this is not something you can call yourself. A “thought leader,” according to one definition, “is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.” Are you this person? If not, call yourself something else.

Are there other words you wish people would stop using to refer to themselves? What did we miss?


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  • Raj

    As Writer says ‘Guru’ Sanskrit for Teacher… NO.. Teacher has another word in Sanskrit too…!!! Guru is a person who is Master in his art and it could be for anything that demand skills and ability… so please don’t twist and confuse !!!

  • Gary

    Sorry Raj but read this. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guru

  • Opportunist

    How about “Serial Entrepreneur”

  • Jukbo

    I have a friend whose name is “Guru Todru”… so, I am concerned about him…

  • sean parsley

    YOUR A GURU?? AND SMOKER BREAKS EVERY HAVE HOUR WAISTING CO TIME AND U TELL LIES ABOUT PEOPLE WHEN THEY COME TO YOUR PLACE OF WORK ==

    • soBit

      half hour not have hour sorry woudn’t hire you