“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
That famous quote from legendary coach John Wooden is often repeated, but just as frequently forgotten.
A generous interpretation of that reality would be we confuse reputation with character. A more cynical evaluation would say we aren’t confusing anything, we merely value the opinion of others more than the truth of ourselves.
To take Wooden’s comment a step further, your reputation is who others think you are, while character is who God knows you to be.
Many of us cultivate and develop an idol of reputation. Previously, I wrote about how a concern for our reputation subtly creeps into our parenting, but it clearly doesn’t stop there.
It can be so easy to subtly switch from pursuing a godly character to chasing a good reputation. We can even make theological sounding excuses for it. It’ll help my witness for people to see me doing these good things.
Unfortunately, everyone’s actions fail to live up to other’s opinions in some instances. The mask slips on us all, but the area where true character and reputation diverge is how we respond to those instances.
The reputation obsessed refuse to acknowledge those failures. They have no sense of transparency, as they demand you ignore what you can clearly see – they’re not perfect.
So how can you be more concerned with character? Here are six ways to avoid falling under the sway of the idol of reputation:
• Make sure your hidden actions match your public words. As much as possible seek to live a consistently godly life. It doesn’t mean you’ll be perfect, but it means deception will not be your intention.
• Focus on doing good deeds without anyone knowing. Nothing can fuel character as opposed to reputation like seeking to serve outside the view of those others.
• Have people to hold you accountable, unafraid to tell you when you mess up. Only having yes-men around will help us polish our reputation, all the while our character withers away. Without people to hold us accountable, we become a beautifully decorated egg with a rotten inside waiting to spill out at the first crack.
• Seek to discover and evaluate others on their character, not their reputation. If you want to cultivate character first, help others do the same. Refuse to judge based purely on what you see on the outside.
• Accept criticism gracefully and prayerfully, especially when it comes from someone close. You don’t have to take the words of everyone to heart, but when those who know you best bring up an area in which you can improve, listen carefully and act responsibly.
• Don’t ask how will this look to others. Ask how it will affect who you are. Your goal makes all the difference. Judge and decide what to do based on becoming the person God created you to be, not how others may perceive it.
More often than not, reputation will follow character in the long run. Some may get away with fooling the crowds for awhile. But that will be stripped away one day.
Others may toil away with good works in obscurity. But the time will come when those acts are revealed and rewarded. What is hidden, whether good or bad, will come to light.
Focus your efforts on your character, not your reputation. You cannot really control the latter, but you can always build up the former.