Credentials are a fact of life – degrees, certificates, diplomas, titles, qualifications, and real or symbolic badges of one kind or another. Credentials have their place in life, and in life at work. Credentials support us to feel confident, and support others to feel confident in us. Credentials allow us to assume responsibility and accountability, and support others choices to permit us to lead, manage or supervise. Credentials communicate education and experience and support others to rely on our expertise.
Where credentials get in the way is when one becomes preoccupied, even obsessed, with their credential. Meaning?
Simply, these folks are their credential. Their identity is birthed from their credential. They feel like a somebody as a function of their credential. These folks take their credential out of context and allow it to become bigger than life itself. These are the folks at work, at home and at play, who can’t get out of the way of, separate from, their credential. They wear it like a cloak. It’s their brand.
When folks are obsessed with their credential, when they are their credential, they are always on in formal meetings, in informal workplace gatherings, in water cooler conversations, with clients and other stakeholders, in outside-of-work social situations, even when shopping at the local retailer – their conversations and their interactions are driven by their need for recognition, for acknowledgment and to feel emotionally secure, to be seen as somebody. And, for this “somebody,” its all about “do you know who I am?”, that is, “do you recognize my credential that is me?” Often consciously, more often unconsciously.
There’s an intellectual component to the need to be somebody being – cognitively recognized as important, knowledgeable, educated, having position, power, status or privilege and there’s an emotional component to the need to be somebody – the sensate, physiological feeling of being “held” and seen. When either of these is lacking, the individual experiences a sense of being a nobody, for them, a fate equal to death – in actuality, unbeknownst to them, their ego death. They feel they don’t exist. They have no value or worth. They feel deficient; they have no identity. They’re not somebody. The psychopaths and narcissists who happen to live and work in just about every workplace, are extremely obsessed with the need and want to be somebody (even at play and at home). Their credential is the story line of their life, a statement about “who I am,” a somebody.
To these folks, the response to the question, “What do you do?” is an “I am” statement. A be-ing, not a do-ing. Why? Because they are their credential – an announcement of “who I am.”
The credentialed love the limelight, to be the center of attention and the life of the party. Being at the center feeds their ego, and nourishes, not their sense of pride ( a good thing), but hubris, pride bordering on obsession. How often when one of these folks feels they are not heard or seen, do they quickly react with a rough or unkind word, inappropriate action or reaction that communicates: “Do you know who I am!!!!!?: “Can’t you see’ me!!!!?” “What’s wrong with you!!!?”
Such reactivity is the downside of identifying with one’s credential. The sadness of it all is when one of these folks is not seen and heard their emotional and physiological response, underneath it all, is one of anger fueled by sadness, and loneliness. Like the young child who is wet, and not diapered, or hungry and not fed. Feeling unseen, unacknowledged and ignored, these folks, now as adults, are really reaching out to be seen and acknowledged – “emotionally wet and hungry,” wanting attention, not for diapers or food, rather, to be seen, heard, i.e., recognized as “somebody.
So, what would it be like to consciously choose to be a nobody, to explore and be curious about what we see about ourselves if we didn’t need to be somebody? That is, to be a nobody and show up authentically without the crutch of the credential?
What would it feel like if we went through an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year, or a lifetime, without needing to be somebody? Just showing up as who I am right here and right now, authentically?
Being authentic in our life at work means, simply, I am me. Not, I am my job or I am my credential. Just me. What might that look like, feel like?
Well, it might look like we own our mistakes. Or, we don’t become “too big for our britches.” Or, blame others for errors. Or, come across as arrogant, holier-than-thou, and super(wo)man. We shed the cloak of fakeness, phoniness and pretending. We allow ourselves to say, I don’t know. or “What do you think?” Or allow our embarrassment, our shyness, our vulnerability.
As a nobody, we learn to become more interested in others. We let go of our ego. We are inclusive in thought, word and deed. We are open and accepting. We operate with the notion that I am one of you. and “We are in this together for our mutual good.” We seek to understand before being understood. We stand back, inquire, observe and listen. We walk in others shoes. We let go of power, status, title, and qualifications. We move away from “center stage” to “stage right,” maybe even move to being “behind the scenes.” We allow it to be OK to not need to be the expert. We become servant rather than master. We become flexible rather than rigid. We come from our heart in addition to our head. We become less important rather than self-important. In essence, we add a spiritual component to “who I am” and “how I am” at work. In a way, we become invisible. We get out of own way. We become quieter – more self-reflective, more self-observant. In a word, humble.
Humility, and being a “nobody,” means looking up at the vast, vast Universe and knowing…I am not the center of it…regardless of my credentials.
So, some questions for self-reflection are:
· Do you rely on your credentials to be seen as “somebody?” Do you ever let credentials, yours or others’, get in the way of your relationships?
· Are you ever jealous of others’ credentials?
· Do you ever feel like a “nobody”, or deficient, because you lack a certain credential?
· What would a next credential “get you?” Are you a “nobody” without it?
· Do you use your credential to behave like a “know-it-all” or an expert?
· Do you ever use your credentials to mask weakness or irresponsibility?
· Do you keep your credentials in a proper perspective?
· Do credentials line your walls? If so, why?
· When folks ask, “What do you do?”, how do you respond? With a “do-ing” or a “be-ing?”
· Who would you be without one or more of your credentials? Would you feel like you’re the same person?
· What would it be like to practice being a “nobody” next week, in thought, word and deed?
· Do you always need to be “on”? If so, why?
· Are status and title important to you? If so, why?
· How do you practice humility in your life at work (at home and at play)?
· When do you feel like a “nobody” and a “somebody”?
· How often do you feel you show up authentically? Honestly. Is that OK?
(c) 2008, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and SpiritHeart. All rights in all media reserved.