When I was in grad school, I remember my professor saying “do not use the word ‘guru’ to describe yourself on LinkedIn.” The more time I spent in the professional world, the more I realized how many people needed to hear this advice but clearly never received it.
When did the word ‘guru’ become associated with cheap branding and self-promotion? As an Indian-American, it personally hurts me to see this word, historically used in my country of birth to refer to someone highly esteemed by the community, taken by Americans and turned into cheap marketing. But my personal feelings aside, let’s look at what being a “guru” really means.
I know many people who don’t necessarily refer to themselves as “gurus” but still present themselves as experts on how others should live their lives. They use social media platforms to tell you how they can make you rich, successful, and “spiritual as hell” -- to quote my favorite fake guru -- J.P. Sears.
The irony is that most of these "gurus" are under 50 years old and aren’t actually rich, successful, or “spiritual as hell” themselves in real life. Many of them gain their “expertise” from the 3rd page of Google or watching YouTube videos (I’m not even going to go into how to apply critical thinking skills to sift through the internet to find out what is credible and what is garbage). These “gurus” only pretend to be experts on the internet. I get it, they are relying on the overused “fake it 'til you make it" strategy and I’m all for it. However, if you’re going to fake it, fake it well. If you half-ass your faking, you’re never gonna make it.
I’m not a guru. I’m too busy figuring out my own messy life to tell others how to live theirs. However, I do have an M.F.A. in writing and a couple of personal brands that I have been developing over the last five years. I can tell you that the best way to sell yourself and gain followers on the internet is to have a good story. If you want to be a “guru” on the internet, you need good storytelling skills. If you don’t have a story to backup your brand, you have no substance.
You can tell people all day that chasing their dreams and following their hearts will make them rich and successful, but if you don’t have concrete examples from your own life on how you became successful and the strategies you used to get there, your words are meaningless fluff. If you want to teach people how to be more self-aware, how to make more money, or how to have better relationships, show them your story. That is your brand. If you don’t have your own story about the topic on which you are advising people, you have no authority to be a guru. No one will care what you have to say.
It isn’t easy to build a strong, authentic brand which is why there are professionals (like me!) who help people with storytelling and brand development (yes, that was a plug). But seriously, get help. You can be a successful “guru” on the internet by having a good story and a strong brand. For example, I know many people who love the life "guru" Gary V. He motivates a lot of people even though I'm yet to meet someone who became successful because of him. But, it doesn't matter because he has a strong brand that is working for him. You, however, may not have the skills to develop a strong brand so be honest with yourself and get help! It is often easier for other people to tell you what your story is than for you to figure it out for yourself.
Once again, I don’t claim to be a guru, but I do have quite a bit of knowledge and experience with storytelling and I’m just tired of seeing people in my network selling themselves short. Now, excuse me while I go back to my messy life.
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to leave comments below with your stories and points of view on this topic.
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ABOUT THE ARTIST
Loso F. Perez is a cartoonist with passion for teaching. You can see more of his work or learn from him on PrimeVice.com and follow him on social media @prime_vice.
These blogs explore my writing process and highlight my favorite writers and books.