A new employee joined the department recently, and I finally had an opportunity to visit with the new kid, so I started with my favorite question, “What do you do in real life?”

This question gets a wide range of responses. Most people start out talking about their work, and I have to lead them to the topic of “real life”.  This young woman surprised me when she started out with her love of musical theater, and her desire to go back to finish her degree in philosophy before segueing into the fact that she had a couple of side hustles in addition to her nine to five.

When I inquired about her side hustle, she began her reply with one of the saddest phrases I think a person can utter. She said, “I’m just a…”.

I stopped her, “Why ‘Just a’? Nobody is ‘Just a’ anything. If you are earning your money honestly, you should be proud of it.” She considered for a moment, and agreed that “Just a” is “really demeaning”.

Somewhere in our Manual of Social Interaction, the concepts of humility and pride have become confused. A person working in agriculture is directly involved in feeding millions of people. To hear that person saying “I’m just a farmer” is ridiculous. “I’m a farmer” should be a source of pride. The occupation is mission critical! On the other hand,  a blowhard claiming “I’m the most best farmer in the country.” is equally ridiculous, unless they have the facts to back it up.

These institutionalized negative messages impact our children and how they perceive of themselves. This is compounded by “Participation” awards. Not allowing our children to feel good about doing something well removes the motivation to try new things, and apathy toward doing anything at all.

This is not how people should go through life.

This is not how innovators think.

This is not how heroes are born.

Let’s end this miscarriage of Just As.