John Wooden said, “Your reputation is who people think you are; your character is who you really are.”
So what would it look like for us to have great character in 2012 and stop working on our reputation? Who really cares what people think?
I learned this lesson several years ago. I ran into a person who worked endlessly on their reputation but had terrible character. When their character was revealed (which happens in intimacy), they were a complete let down. The truth is they wouldn’t have been a let down at all if they had been themselves.
People don’t judge who we are; they judge who we’ve led them to believe we are. The more time and effort we put into making ourselves look great, the longer and harder the fall when the truth comes out. And eventually, the truth comes out.
What I took from that relationship was difficult, but it’s something we have to face in our early twenties, usually, and that is that there’s a difference between our reputation and our character. Since then, I’ve decided not to work very hard on my reputation. Or at least I hope that’s true. I air most of my dirty laundry, so nobody will judge me. People only judge those who claim to be better than others, more holy, more righteous, more moral. When I’m ethical, I just look good. When somebody who works on their reputation isn’t ethical, they find themselves in social court. Working on our reputation is just a dumb move.
Here are some other reasons to have good character and not worry about our reputations:
1. God rewards character, not reputation.
To care about your reputation means you care more about public opinion than the opinion of God. I notice that some of my friends who work endlessly on their reputations never really advance in life, love, or their careers. People who work on their reputation “have their reward in full,” meaning that God has no interest in rewarding them, but they will get people to be impressed by them, and that’s about all they are going to get. This is the essence of “worldliness” even though it is wearing religious clothes. The worldly person gets their pleasure and redemption and religion from the world; a person who knows God doesn’t work for a human audience. Who cares what they think, honestly? Just do the right thing because it’s the right thing and let God reward you.
2. If you present yourself as better than you are, you can’t have intimacy.
People who lie about who they really are are socially bankrupt, lonely, and have a string of bad relationships. Why? Because they can’t let people know them. They are too busy trying to win in some kind of “game.” Screw the game. Make friends. Settle for being medium great. You’re heart will thank you.
3. Tell the truth.
There’s nothing more healing than living in the truth and presenting yourself as who you really are. It’s easier to sleep at night.
4. When you work on your character, you’re working on the stuff that happens when nobody is looking.
This is infinitely more difficult than misleading and deceiving people. But it’s the stuff that really sets you apart. It’s the stuff God rewards.
What would your life look like if you stopped working on your reputation and started working on your character?