Is your reputation really that important? Is it something that you should constantly stress over? I have been asking myself (and my clients) that question for many years.
I coach many people, in many different disciplines, in many different companies, at many different levels within their companies, all over the United States and Canada. I am always amazed at the stress levels that people are at today. I am further amazed that when I probe into the reasons for the high stress levels, it usually boils down to what my clients think other people are thinking about them. In other words, their stressed about their “reputation”.
This phenomenon raised my curiosity. So I spent a great deal of time studying what a reputation really is and whether or not people should be so stressed about it. This is what I found.
What is a reputation?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a reputation as “an overall quality or character as seen or judged by people in general. A recognition by other people of some characteristic or ability”. In other words, how you are perceived by other people.
I especially like the word “judged” in the definition. This means that your character is basically adjudicated (i.e. one of the definitions of judged) by people you may or may not know. Of course, neither you nor I know the context or criteria upon which this adjudication is based. Even your family members are not with you 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And even if they were, I don’t believe they can read your mind. Which means even they have no way of truly knowing you.
Therefore, your reputation is determined by people who truly don’t know you, using a criteria which is basically foreign to you. So is anything they determine about your reputation really valid?
Let’s probe a little further.
What determines your reputation?
Your reputation are those things for which you are known. It is what other people believe to be true about you. Your character, your personality, your values, and of course, how competent they think you are. It is based on the things people observe you doing.
Henry Ford said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” This means that any potential that you may have, has no bearing on how people perceive you today. None of your plans, future personal development or experiences will have any bearing on the perception people currently have about you.
Of course, the biggest challenge here is that not everyone observes you the same. Therefore, the way one person perceives you is not necessarily how another person perceives you. This means that if your reputation is based on each person’s perception of you, then you don’t have one reputation… you have many!
What is perception?
Perception is the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through our senses. Essentially, it is our way of regarding, understanding and interpreting something. It is concept driven. In other words, we use our preexisting knowledge and experiences to interpret the information that is presented to us. There are numerous studies that show that two people can look at the same object and have two totally different perceptions about what they are observing.
Let’s think about this a minute. You have multiple people who observe you. Each of them will perceive you differently based on their particular filter (i.e. their preexisting knowledge and experience). Your reputation is based on that perception. Therefore, you not only have multiple reputations, each reputation could be completely different!
So, which reputation should you care about? Answer: How about none of them! Your reputation is in their heads… and, what is in their heads is none of your business!
Let’s look at the real problem. That is, what happens to us when we stress over our reputation.
The real problem with reputation
As I previously mentioned, people are stressing over their reputation. I thought it would be of interest to discuss what stress can do to you.
Dr. John Bergman says that there are three types of stress. They are physical, chemical and emotional. Unfortunately, our bodies can’t distinguish between them, therefore, it responds the same way to all of them. Stressing over your reputation falls into the emotional stress category.
Stress causes physical changes to your body. Your brain tells your body to send out the stress hormones. These are the hormones that trigger your “fight or flight” response. Therefore, your body begins to race your heart, increase your breathing, and tighten your muscles for action. The main concern is that when your body keeps “firing” these stress responses day after day, it could actually cause you to develop serious health problems. Chronic stress can cause irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches, and insomnia. It can also result in overeating (or not eating enough), alcohol (or drug) abuse, and social withdrawal.
So the real question is… Are other people’s perceptions about you worth the possible health and/or behavioral issues associated with the stress that it causes you? I believe the answer is no!
Then what should you think about?
What should you think about?
I think the answer to that question is simple… Think about being the best “you” that you can be. The best “you” being based on your own criteria. Have a serious conversation with the person in the mirror to determine what kind of person you want to be. Understand everything there is to know about being that person. Set goals and put action plans in place to develop into that person. Then, simply be that person! Enjoy who that person is. Like that person. Get excited about what that person does. Celebrate the accomplishments of that person. Doing these things, I believe, is “your” business… what you should be thinking about.
Your reputation should be determined by you in terms of how you see yourself. It should only be based on the criteria that you determine. You need to be satisfied with who you are and what you plan to become. Let other people see you however they want to see you. Any reputation that they develop about you is theirs… not yours and, therefore, is none of your business.