You Can't Run From Your Shadow
July 5, 2016
Your reputation matters. Your reputation is like your shadow. It is inseparable from you. It follows you wherever you go. You can't run from your shadow. There is no way to escape it - it will always be with you. Your reputation is like a promotional brochure for who you are. It contains what most people learn first about you. It is the edited highlights of who you are. Sadly, this brochure is not something published solely by you and therefore it contains both the good and the bad. We all say that first impressions count, but often forget that a first impression needn't be the first time we meet someone. Often, our reputation is what actually constitutes the dreaded first impression. If you want the opportunity to perform at your best, then first you must seek to manage your reputation. A good reputation can help you, but a bad reputation can hinder you. To achieve your best - actually to be your best - it is essential you manage your reputation.
The problem with our reputation is that while it lives with us - and it is inexplicably linked to us - it is not part of us. It is external to us. It lives on the outside of you. We have no control over it; at best we may be able to influence it. We can influence it by the way we choose to act and behave. We influence our reputation by the standards we desire to hold ourselves accountable to. What we do, say and believe represents our reputation. Still, it's pretty scary to think that something so important to us is actually unmanageable. The control freak inside all of us is shaking at the prospect of not being able to dictate how our reputation will grow.
But why does our reputation matter so much? The simple answer is because it represents the way other people view us. Yes, we should be secure enough in ourselves to not care what others think of us, but at the same time what people think of us impacts us greatly....more than most people would like to admit. What people think of us can alter the opportunities that come our way. We are social creatures and it is almost impossible to make progress if those in our social and professional networks think poorly of us. If people think we are selfish, self-obsessed, ruthless or cruel, then our chances of being accepted and promoted positively amongst a network are zero. Would you want to help someone who was deemed to be lazy, dishonest or mean? Didn't think so. A reputation can be formed out of infrequent encounters. If a reputation is formed through the eyes of other people, every time we interact with them, we are confirming or debunking what they believe to be true about us.
A reputation is owned by us, but formed by others. A reputation can't live without other people's input. How we appear to others is our reputation. The more people know, learn and observe about us, the more our reputation grows. As people see us behave consistently in a certain way, the more our reputation becomes that. To build a good reputation you need to be deliberate and considerate. You need to behave and act in a way that builds the characteristics you want to be associated with. It's easy to say you're focused and driven but to build a reputation for those traits you actually need to live them. Other people need to observe you behaving in those ways for them to associate them with you. People need to discover your positive traits for themselves. After all your reputation is how others see you. You should view your reputation as an ever growing extension of the person you're trying to be.
Reputations aren't built out of a singular interaction; rather they are built over considerable time, and like most things a reputation is harder to build that it is to destroy. A reputation is fragile. You must be careful with it. Constructing a good reputation takes patience and time. It requires calculation and caution. Destroying a reputation is swift and sadly way too easy. What takes months or even years to build can be undone in seconds. Wiped out in a moment. A reputation is a little like a building; it takes time to carefully build and reinforce each level. Once it's built it stands proudly upon its foundations for all to look up and gaze at. But it also takes only one wrecking ball to bring it crumbling down. One significant smash and the building is reduced to dust and rubble.
Having a great reputation is important for your success. It gives you an identity amongst your social and professional networks. It helps you be distinguishable from others. A reputation allows you to be known. It also gives people ammunition to defend you with; some people will have negative things to say about you (no one is universally loved), and during these moments your reputation will act like a negativity repellent. When someone says something bad, your reputation allows others to defend you, because they know your identity. Your reputation also serves as your marketing strategy. The better your reputation the better your marketing. Your reputation is your message to the world; it tells them what you're all about.
Maybe most importantly, having a good reputation becomes a tool for accountability and growth. When we stand for something good we then have to constantly hold ourselves to those actions, we have to ensure we keep delivering to those expectations. Sometimes our reputation can feel bigger than us, and that maybe we don't deserve it, and therefore we can use it to help us strive for more. A reputation can be a motivator for us to improve who we are and how we are seen.
Your reputation is like your shadow. It will follow you everywhere. It becomes a reflection of who you are - or at least how other people see you. Your shadow will never fade... it will be there with you wherever you go, forever. Build a shadow that inspires you to do better. Build a shadow that is influential to others. Be consistent in what you say, what you do and how you present yourself. You will never be able to run from your shadow, but you can shape it. Make a shadow you're proud of.