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Credentials are a fact of life – degrees (even honorary), certificates, diplomas, titles, qualifications and the like are symbolic “badges.” Credentials have their place in life. Credentials support us to feel confident (even when we aren’t), and support others to feel confident in us. Credentials allow us to assume responsibility and accountability, and support others – choices to allow us to lead, manage or supervise. Credentials communicate education and experience upon which others can rely.

When credentials get in the way

Where credentials get in the way is when they lead to obsession and preoccupation. How so?

Some folks become their credential. A new identity is birthed from their credential. They feel like a “somebody” as a function of their credential. They 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 themselves from, their credential. They wear it like a cloak. It’s become their “brand.”

Do you know who I am?!

When folks are obsessed with their credential, when they are their credential, they’re 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 largely (often unconsciously) motivated by their need for recognition, acknowledgement and their need to feel emotionally secure, to be seen as “somebody.” And, for this “somebody,” it’s all about “Do you know who I am?” “Do you recognize ‘my credential that is me’?” Again, often consciously, more often unconsciously.

There’s an intellectual component of the need to be “somebody” – being cognitively recognized as important, knowledgeable, educated, having position, power, status or privilege – and there’s a psycho/emotional component to the need to be “somebody” – and a physiological feeling and sense of being “held” and “seen.” When any of these is lacking, an individual can experience a sense of being a “nobody,”  – a fate equal to death – unbeknownst to them, it’s an “ego death.” They might feel they don’t exist. Or they have no value or worth. They feel deficient. They feel lacking. They have no identity. They’re not “somebody.”

The psychopaths and narcissists who cross our paths in every walk of life are obsessed with the requirement, need and want to be seen as “somebody.” 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 “do-ing,” not a “be-ing.” Why? Because they are their credential – an announcement of “who I am.”

The credentialed often crave the limelight, to be the center of attention and the life of the party. Being at the center (of the Universe!) feeds their ego, and nourishes, not their sense of pride ( a good thing), but hubris, pride bordering on obsession (not such a good thing). Often when one of these folks feels they’re not heard or seen, they quickly react with a rough or unkind word, an inappropriate action or reaction that communicates: “Do you know who I am!!!!!?” “Can’t you ‘see’ me!!!!?” “What’s wrong with you!!!?”

The downside

Such reactivity is the downside of identifying with one’s credential. The point is when one of these folks feels unseen and unheard, their emotional and physiological response, underneath it all, is one of  anger fueled by sadness, and loneliness – not unlike the young child who is wet, but not diapered, or hungry, but 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, but rather, to be seen, heard, held and recognized as “somebody.”

What would it be like if…?

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 shoring up, 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, right now, authentically?

Being authentic in our life means, simply, “I am me.” Not, “I am my job” or “I am my credential.” Just me. What might that be like, look like, feel like, sound like? What might others be saying about you?

Well, it might look like we own our mistakes. Or, we don’t become “too big for our britches.” Or, we don’t 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 ask “What do you think?” Or allow our embarrassment, our shyness or our vulnerability.

The qualities of a nobody

As a “nobody” we 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 from “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, privilege 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.” 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, being a “nobody,” means looking up at the vast, vast Universe and knowing.that “I’m not the center of it.” – regardless of my credentials.

Some questions for self-reflection:

  • Do you rely on your credentials to be seen as “somebody?” Do credentials, yours or others’, get in the way of your relationships?
  • Are you ever jealous of others’ credentials? How so?
  • Do you ever feel like a “nobody,” or deficient, because you lack a certain credential? What’s that like?
  • What would a next credential “get you?” Do you feel like 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 deficiency?
  • 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? As a “do-ing” or a “be-ing?”
  • Would you feel like the same person without one of your credentials? How so?
  • 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? How so?
  • When did you first discover your need for status or title?
  • How do you practice humility?
  • When do you feel like a “nobody” and a “somebody”? How so?

(c) 2019, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and True North Partnering. All rights in all media reserved.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this reading with you and I hope you find it insightful and useful. Perhaps you’ll share this with others, post it on a bulletin board, and use it to generate rich and rewarding discussion.

What is the one thing that is keeping you from feeling successful, happy, confident, in control or at peace as you live your life – at work, at home, at play or in relationship? Maybe you know what that “thing” is…maybe you don’t. You just have a feeling that something has to change, whether or not you embrace that change. And how would that change support you to show up as a “better you?”

I’m available to guide you to create relationships that reflect honesty, integrity, authenticity, trust, and respect whether at work or outside of work. I support you to focus on the interpersonal skills that enable you to relate to others with a high level of personal and professional satisfaction – unhampered by personal inconsistencies, beliefs, “stories,” and behaviors that create barriers to a harmonious, pleasant, conscious, compatible, healthy and productive relationship.

I coach by phone, Skype and in person. For more information, 770-804-9125, or pvajda(at)

You can also follow me on Twitter: @petergvajda.