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What’s your subtitle?

Contrary to your mother’s assurances, the general public does in fact judge books by their covers. 

“When you enter a bookstore, what exactly are we looking for? What catches your eye? All those beautiful paperback or hardcover editions are wrapped in a cover with an eye-catching design, the author’s name, and the title. The cover design is up to the graphics team, so an acquisitions editor is looking for two other important elements: a popular name and an intriguing title. Either will do nicely to secure a second look from Joe or Jane shopper.

In the big bookstore of life, you and I don’t operate much differently. We know that others are judging us by our “cover,” and we really, really want them to like what they see. We want them to take a second look. Why? Maybe we’re after their respect or admiration or perhaps we have an unhealthy “fear of man” (Prov. 29:25).

Maybe, if we’re honest, we wouldn’t mind if the person on the other end was just a tad bit jealous of us. Whatever our reasoning, if we don’t have as much control over the “cover art” (our outward appearance) as we’d like, we have to make sure we seal the deal with either an impressive name or a flashy subtitle.

Few of us have names people immediately recognize. So, in an attempt to be a somebody, most of us have adopted “subtitles” to impress people to “buy” us.

Who are you?

Not sure that’s true? Well, what’s the one thing you’re tempted to bring up in the course of conversation when establishing your identity for the first time when you want to impress someone? It might be as short as, “I’m Jenny, the VP of marketing and a working mom,” or, “Hey, I’m Kyle, and I just produced my first movie.” Occasionally we’ll open with a question, “How many grandchildren do you have or what do you do?” hoping they’ll ask you, giving you the opportunity to give them your subtitle.

But, seriously, what is it for you? I sure know my subtitles of choice. They’ve changed over the years to account for the different roles I’ve held and jobs I’ve done. But to be honest, they’ve all been about one thing: me. Even weaving ministry credentials in there doesn’t mask the underlying desire to make others think I’m a somebody. That I matter. That I’m going places. I’m itching for admiration, respect, and yes, even jealousy. It’s ugly and it’s wrong.”

The first portion of this blog was edited from an intriguing new book with the title, Embracing Obscurity, by an anonymous author. The author has chosen to remain anonymous, primarily out of fear that by revealing his/her identity it would simply add one more subtitle to their life.

The author’s fear is real. Since writing The 10-Second Rule, I’ve found myself with a new subtitle – author. I think I’ve done a reasonably good job of not dropping that subtitle into conversations. But, if it’s brought up by another, I’ve been ashamed at times how quickly I just run with it.

So what’s your subtitle?

I’d suggest this exercise; take a few minutes before God today and take a honest personal inventory of all the ways you introduce yourself to others – your list of subtitles.

Obviously, if you’re meeting with people associated with your work, it’s important to let them know who you are and what you do. Or, at a school function to introduce yourself as “Kyle’s mother” is a perfectly legitimate use of subtitles.

So, I’m more interested in private conversations where subtitles aren’t required but desired. Reflect on why you do that. Is it simply to let them know something about yourself – that’s fine.  But, is it meant to impress them? Not so fine.

Consider adopting new subtitles

Now take some time to think of some new subtitles for yourself that take you off the pedestal.

For the purposes of evangelism, I have chosen the subtitle when asked, “I’m a part time, spiritual mentor.” Nobody can leave that alone. And it often begins a conversation that ends in them calling me to meet.

I once read about a woman who purposely introduces herself as a “recovering perfectionist”. She uses that subtitle to draw men and women into conversations about how we can drive our spouses or children to be emotionally unhealthy with the pursuit of performance or perfection.

A man once introduced himself to me this way, “I’m make a living in real estate, but my first love is my family.” It began a wonderful and unexpected conversation.

My wife and I watched a Christian movie recently and the main character introduced himself this way; “I’m an encourager”. Now, of course, by doing that there’s always the danger of pride. However, this person simply wanted people to ask, “What’s that?” so he could encourage them to be encouragers themselves. The point is, if the primary reason for adopting a subtitle is to impress, it’s probably wrong. If it’s meant to open a conversation that will potentially help someone, then it’s a risk you ought to consider.

Question:  Do you have some examples of subtitles you’ve used that triggered conversations that open doors or inspired?

Following Jesus in Real Life

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