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10 Words You Should Never Use to Describe Yourself Unless, of course, you’re a little too full of yourself.

Consider the word “charismatic.” If someone called me charismatic, I will be incredibly flattered (and hugely surprised.) But if I call myself charismatic, you will think I’m a jerk–and rightly so.

Here are 10 more words that are awesome when used by others to describe you, but you should never use to describe yourself:

1. Generous. Take it from Adam Grant, an expert on the subject of giving and taking. Generosity is in the eye of the beholder.

“Generosity is earned, not claimed,” he writes. “Leave it to other people to describe you as a giver–that’s the highest form of praise.”

The most generous people I know give without fanfare and without seeking accolades. Their giving is so far under the radar it’s subterranean. And they don’t consider themselves to be generous since they’re always thinking they could do more.

All of us can be more generous than we are. While relative to what others give you might be more generous than most, if that’s the case let other people describe you that way.

After all, true generosity is often found in people who are also…

2. Humble. I like to think I’m humble. (Maybe I am, at least compared to this guy…)

But I’m really not.

Case in point. Last week, I showed two different people, totally unprompted, a photo of me with Mark Cuban at GrowCo. (I took a photo of Mark with someone else that was actually worthy of comment.) Sure, meeting Mark was cool, but showing off the photo was definitely a d– move. (Yep, I’ve still got a lot of growing up to do.)

Truly humble people don’t call themselves humble, if only because they’re too humble to ever say it.

3. Self-disciplined. Every remarkably focused person I know readily admits they struggle to stay disciplined. Why? It’s hard to stay on track. It’s hard not to go off on tangents. It’s hard not to give in and, to use a football expression, take a few plays off.

So you worked really hard and stayed on-task today. Big deal. So you resisted temptation today. Big deal. Do that for days, for weeks, for months–then come talk to us.

Self-disciplined people constantly struggle with self-discipline because they’re trying

incredibly hard to stay disciplined. That’s why they are the last people to describe themselves as self-disciplined–they know it’s a challenge that must be met each and every day.

4. Passionate. I’ve written about this before and it’s still true. Passion is never claimed. Passion is displayed. Plus it’s really easy to sound over the top; claim you’re passionate about, oh, designing functional workspaces and you sound just a bit hyperbolic.

Here’s a better option. Save your passion for your loved one. That person truly deserves it.

5. Witty. I’ve never met anyone who claimed to be witty who didn’t also turn out to be insufferable.

You may, in fact, be witty. Some people are. This guy is. But you’ll never hear him claim he’s witty; he’s too busy developing even more great material.

And if he doesn’t call himself witty (or hilarious or entertaining or funny) then neither should you.

6. Empathetic. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

That’s great but also almost worthless unless you do something with those shared feelings: offer support, offer help, offer guidance, offer tough love, etc. Feeling empathetic is fine, but what you do with that feeling makes all the difference for the other person.

Claiming you’re empathetic turns a feeling that should be all about another person into a description that’s all about you–which, of course, is completely not the point.

7. Fearless. Everyone’s afraid. If my pal ex-Navy SEAL pal Jeff Boss can admit to having been scared… hey, we’ve all been afraid. Besides, courage isn’t the absence of fear. Courage is doing what you need to do in spite of fear.

So don’t say you’re fearless. You’re not. Brave? In certain circumstances, maybe. Courageous? Possibly so. But fearless?


8. Straightforward. Maybe it’s just me, but I read “straightforward” and it sounds similar to starting a sentence using, “With all due respect…” Straightforward is usually a code word for rude, abrasive, disrespectful, or impolite.

Be straightforward all you want. We’ll assess your level of candor by what you say, not by what you call yourself.

9. Adaptable. I hate to whip out a cliché, but the only constant is change. Nothing–no industry, no market, no job, no, um, nothing–stays the same. We all have to be adaptable.

Like Chris Rock says, never take credit for things you’re supposed to be.

10. Independent. Self-reliance is a good thing. The ability to take care of yourself, to function without too much help or assistance, is a good thing.

But that’s now how most people use the word. Most people describe themselves as independent as a way to cover for being terrible team players, or for not knowing how to follow as well as to lead, or even as an excuse for not playing well in sandboxes.

After all, “It’s not that I don’t get along with other people. I’m just independent!”

Sure you are.