3 Reasons I Hate the Word “Just”

just.001I’m just a bank teller. I’m just a customer service rep. I’m just a trainer. I’m just a new hire. I’m just a receptionist. I’m just a clerk. I’m just one executive. I’m just one manager.

Sometimes I really hate the word just. I’ve been trying to pin down exactly why I detest it so much in some instances, and I think it has something to do with what people mean when they employ the word.

1. If you repeat things like that long enough, they may become true. Well true to you anyway. If you tell yourself enough times that something is true about you, you start to buy into yourself.

2. There’s usually a whole lot of can’t behind the word just. Think about the examples above. If someone says they’re just a customer service rep, what are they actually saying? What they often mean is that there’s something they can’t do, initiative they can’t take, dreams they can’t accomplish, change they can’t create, or goals they can’t attain.

3. It downplays the potential any given human being has. Now, do I mean that if people believe or want something strongly enough that they can always get or do it? No. Of course not. I really wanted to be Superman when I was a kid, but you’ll notice that the outfit I’m wearing today is more Clark Kent than Superman.  A tie isn’t nearly as fun as a cape, by the way.

But now that I’ve gotten that disclaimer out of the way, I hope you’ll understand this: when you say you’re just this or that, it’s really like you’re taking your own legs out from underneath you. Instead of being an empowered, creative, positive, motivated individual, you’ve reduced yourself to being just something (whatever that happens to be).

So don’t fall for it. Don’t fall into the mental trap that so many fall into. You’re not just your position. You’re an integral part of your organization. You’re an individual with goals, dreams, abilities, and ideas. You can be a motivated, empowered, positive, valuable member of the team if you just decide to put forth the effort and work it takes to be those things.

Don’t settle for just.

35 thoughts on “3 Reasons I Hate the Word “Just”

  • Matt,

    Great points! Another problem with the word “just” is that it passes responsibility to others. We tend to pass the buck in our organizations (it’s just not my job, it’s just above my pay grade, etc.). Your company won’t change unless you take the responsibility to change it yourself.


  • LOVE it! I believe in the power of words and using minimizing and limiting words changes how we see ourselves and how others see us. The word “just” is a perfect example of minimizing language in action. As you pointed out, “just” often implies not what an individual can do, but what they can’t do- and if repeated often enough, we believe it!

    Other words I avoid are “should”, “always”, “never”, “can’t”, and “wish”.

    Have a grateful day!


    • Thanks, Chrysta. Funny how we can talk ourselves into and out of thinking and believing just about anything, eh?

  • Preach it Matt! Hearing people use the word “just” is one of my pet peeves. It’s self-limiting thinking that shackles the grander vision of who and what a person can be. We are all more than “just” our job title or profession.

    Take care,


    • Thanks, Randy. I love that powerful imagery too — “self-limiting thinking that shackles the grander vision of who and what a person can be.”

  • Awesome post, Matt.

    You said it implicitly, but I would underline that in addition to the “can’t” there is some “shouldn’t” buried in a “just”. It creates something of a foreclosure of initiative. Lack of confidence. It’s a great thing to drum out of people’s vocabulary. (Though I expect we all have moments of guilt.)

    (Also, I appreciated that this post reminded me of that song “Just a Housewife” from the musical “Working”!)


    • Hey Darcy! Thanks for stopping by. You bring up an interesting idea here. I’d love to hear you develop this idea of the “foreclosure of initiative.”

  • This brief and to the point article has been a great read! I have been working hard on changing “noun” words into “verbs”. I must say that this article and the comments are right and just! 🙂

    Thank you for taking the time to bring words of wisdom to the masses of people who have tricked themselves into believing that they are some how less than they CAN be! (We all have been taught to limit ourselves but, once we truly understand that we are in fact limitless, imagine all the things that are possible!)

  • This post is more than just good…it’s amazing!

    Seriously, these two sentences are golden: When you say you’re just this or that, it’s really like you’re taking your own legs out from underneath you. Instead of being an empowered, creative, positive, motivated individual, you’ve reduced yourself to being just something (whatever that happens to be).

    I agree, just say no to being just ___________________.

  • This is awesome, Matt! There are several words I make a diligent effort not to use in my daily life, or in my writings. “Can’t” is definitely one of them. A few of the other ones I refrain from speaking into my future is, “if,” “maybe,” “try,” “no,” and “impossible.” I call them, “Yuck words.”

    Thanks to you, my friend — Today, I will add a new one to the list.

    Awesome message, mate!

  • What about when a person is just as in pure and good? Plato described being just as a goal for all humans. I understand the context for which you use just, but we as leaders can turn a comment like this into a positive.

    • Well, like many words, it can have different meanings when employed different ways and in different contexts; but clearly in these contexts we’re not referring to the adjective “just,” as you are. That legal ruling seemed “just.” Here we’re using the adverb form of the word that carries with it the connotation of only or merely.

      So while I admire the desire to turn a negative to a positive, it’d be difficult to say to someone “You know what–you’re right. You are just a sales associate. And by just a sales associate I mean you are a fair and equitable sales associate.”

      That wouldn’t really address the individuals concerns or underlying struggle.

  • Just is a self limiting word which is probably underestimated by many of us. Many of us may not even realize how belittling that sounds.

    You have eloquently expressed that limiting feeling in the words I’m just a …..

    Awesome post Matt

  • I despise the word JUST when used in your context. Not only for what it implies about the worker saying those words but also what it implies to the customer.

    When someone says to me “I am just the service rep” or “I am just the secretary” my thoughts as the customer are “I am JUST not going to get my problem resolved, am I?”

    Is that how we want customers to feel?

  • Hi Matt,

    You make an excellent. In the past, I read an article that stated life is 90% attitude and 10% what happens. By removing the word just from our conversations, we create a positive experience for those we encounter. Great post!

  • Matt. What a great article and great responses I have been preaching that to my service technicians for years. Do you know how many times I have heard “well I’m just the the service tech” I can’t stand it. I try to tell them that they are the very backbone of our industry. With out them or any skilled tradesmen we as a society would be lost. Poisoned by rotten food because our refrigerator is broken. Hot and uncomfortable because the ac is down and freeze to death with no heat. They are not “just” the repair man. They are Superheros.

  • Hi, Matt,
    Thank you for your point of view which challenges us to eliminate being “just” anything! When people see themselves as “just” any title, they show that they are unsure or insecure, and subtly undermine their credibility. What company wants to have such a representative? What person with any initiative truly wants to settle for being “just” an unempowered, uncreative, negative, unmotivated individual?

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