Character FIRST; Reputation Second...

Posted In: Soft Skills
Posted On: 9/26/2017

Do you ever worry about how people think about you?  How they talk about you?  What their “Single Story” (see this Ted talk)  is about you?

For as long as I can remember, I have believed that personal reputation is the most important asset that each of us has and the thing that will follow us throughout our lives.  I have believed that reputation is what will be left behind when all else is gone.

But a good friend recently asked me to think about this in a different way.  What if, she asked, a person outwardly has carefully cultivated their reputation to appear one way in public and yet all of their private actions were counter to that appearance.  Imagine this person to be an actor with a persona that has nothing to do with their real belief system.  Imagine a manufactured image to meet the expectations of others, a mask covering up who the person really is.  My friend suggested that a reputation is what is created from external views, not always consistent with internal values.

Oddly enough, since she mentioned this to me, I had the chance to facilitate a discussion with some University of Colorado Leeds Scholar students based on the short story called, “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell.  Written in 1946, the story is timeless in its telling of what one man does to create his reputation.  And in this brilliant story, there is this concept of a mask and how a man’s face will often grow into the mask, the image he wants to show the world.  In developing this mask, he easily can forget the person he really is underneath.

My friend went on to say that she thought “character” was more important than reputation. That a strong character would lead to a strong reputation, but it all starts with character.

I am now certain that she is right. 

But how do we develop a strong character that becomes the foundation of everything else in our lives?  How do we put aside the multitude of outside influences to develop a personal core so strong that it can be shaken but not broken?

First off, let’s just be honest and say it’s hard. 

Hard to not be influenced by family, friends, the media.  Hard to know what is right in every circumstance.  Hard to not want to please people by agreeing with them, even if we don’t.

Okay, it’s hard.  But lots of things are hard.  But not everything is super important and character is super important.

Why?  Because if you have a strong character foundation, it will help you navigate the other hard issues that you will face in your life.  It provides the compass by which you make decisions.  It gives you the strength to stand up against adversity.

How do you create your character foundation? You probably already have it, even if you haven’t articulated it formally.  As a starting point, think about the three things that are most important to you and how you live your life.  Here’s some thought starters for you based on the things most fundamental to my character foundation:

The Golden Rule.  Treat others the way I want to be treated.

Generosity.  Give back for all that has been given to me.

Positive Attitude. Look for and share joy (plus lots of laughter) in all aspects of my life.

Your list will be different than mine and mine aren’t “right,” they are just mine.  And note that I have not recommended you have a “good” character, just a “strong” character to help you navigate your world.

Build your character, and your reputation will follow.