Why You Should Never Call Yourself a Guru
February 7, 2020

Why You Should Never Call Yourself a Guru

by Brian de Haaff

Have you met any gurus recently? I know I have received quite a few connection requests from self-anointed ninjas, trailblazers, and pioneers. Recently I asked folks on LinkedIn to share their encounters with other “buzzword bingo” job titles. The responses did not disappoint — disruptor, change agent, influencer, and (yes) guru. Unless someone is an actual ninja, I have to wonder what people are hoping to communicate with these terms.

Buzzy descriptors may sound impressive — but despite sounding important, there is usually little meaning behind the word.

If we can all agree that this is an empty trend, then why are so many resumes and cover letters littered with these descriptors? I believe there are a few reasons. The gig economy has changed the way some people think about their careers. It is no longer about a progression of responsibilities within your field, but about presenting yourself as an expert regardless of experience. So people resort to exaggerating and bragging.

The other reason is that people want to stand out in a busy crowd of professionals online. Of course, you should be proud to communicate your unique skills and areas of mastery. But a ridiculous title is not the right way to distinguish yourself. Your title is like a billboard — it is often the first impression people have of you. Boastful words make you look desperate at best and delusional or dishonest at worst.

Words matter — you need to choose ones that are marinated in truth.

If you are struggling to accurately characterize yourself, pause to reflect. You can think about past experiences or ask former colleagues to share their perspectives. It takes deep contemplation and strong self-awareness, but it is worth it.

Honesty is a more potent marketing tool than arrogance. Instead of using hollow titles to puff yourself up, focus on describing the essence of who you are and the core values you cherish. This will help you present yourself in a more genuine way.

Whether you are writing a cover letter or simply looking to add a powerful adjective to your LinkedIn headline, here are some words to get you started: Ambitious

The drive to achieve is key to making a positive impact. You set (and meet) big goals and plan for what you want to accomplish. Bold

Courage is not just about taking risks — it is the willingness to listen to your heart and pursue what is right. You push yourself to tackle new challenges and are unafraid to pursue tough conversations. Curious

The desire to constantly learn is an invaluable trait. You go deep on every assignment you take on — digging into the details, improving your knowledge, and looking for ways to make things better. Dedicated

When you are devoted to the work you do, you care deeply about both the process and the outcome. You are a loyal teammate who supports others and loves collaborating to accomplish shared goals. Expert

Effort and skill do combine to form expertise. And you can use the word if it fits. Besides mastering your particular area of focus, you are committed to building your knowledge and perfecting your craft. This gives you the experience and authority to lead others. Flexible

Rigid thinking leads to stagnation. But a flexible attitude opens you up to new opportunities. You are willing to adapt, adjust, or compromise when necessary. Genuine

Authenticity is obvious. You strive to share your full self transparently and with kindness. This encourages those around you to also embody their true selves. Hardworking

It takes effort to do anything well. You enjoy working hard because of the satisfaction and fulfillment that it brings. Innovative

Innovation is driven by big ideas. But it is also about looking for improvements in everything you do. You offer original suggestions for how to increase efficiency and productivity. Motivated

You are excited about what you are doing. Even when you do not find a particular assignment engaging, your inner motivation sustains you. With each task you complete, you build momentum and stay focused on reaching your big goals. Organized

Due dates, activities, workflows — you stay on top of it all. You take detailed notes and have systems in place so that you do not overlook anything. This encourages your teammates to be accountable, too. Passionate

It is evident that you love what you do. And your excitement is contagious — the people around you cannot help but feel invigorated and inspired by your intensity. Reliable

You are steady and dependable — your teammates know they can count on you to show up, complete your work on time, and follow through on promises. Strategic

You take a goal-first approach to everything you do. You are clear on the vision and understand the direction you are heading. You use this high-level thinking to assess the viability of new projects or ideas. Thoughtful

Before taking action, you take the time to reflect. You contemplate what you want to achieve, think through the different approaches you can take, and anticipate any problems that may arise. Unique

No one else has the exact combination of knowledge, skills, and experiences that you do. You are happy to share your unique perspective, and you identify the best ways to contribute your special talents to create value.

Instead of calling yourself a disruptor or trailblazer, communicate the traits and values that you exemplify.

The next time you update your resume or change your LinkedIn headline, be thoughtful about the words you use. Gurus, disruptors, and ninjas may garner some attention, but it is often fleeting. Or worse, the attention comes with a giggle. Choose to describe your accomplishments in plain language and include examples of your work, so you can let the results of your effort dazzle.

What words do you use to describe yourself and your talents?

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Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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