John Wooden said “Your reputation is who people think you are, your character is who you really are.”
Which is more important? Reputation or Character? First it is important to determine how they are different. It was shared recently with me that your reputation is what other people think of you or perceive you to be. Character is who you really are internally, what and how you do things when no one else is looking or no one else will find out. So, what would it look like for us to have great character in 2014 and stop working on our reputation? Who really cares what people think?
I learned this lesson in the last three to four 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 letdown at all if they would have been themselves.
Abraham Lincoln was very concerned with the nature of character, but he was also aware of the importance of having a good reputation. He explained the difference this way:
“Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
In today’s world that is overly preoccupied with image, it is easy to worry too much about our reputation and too little about our character. Building a reputation is largely a public-relations project, but building character requires us to truly focus on our values, actions, and always following through with what we commit ourselves to on a continual daily basis. Noble rhetoric and good intentions just are not enough to build true character.
I truly feel that your reputation is what people think of you and your character is what you actually are! Reputations will change with our circumstances and can be made or destroyed in a brief moment, but character is built through a person’s lifetime.
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 we should be concentrating on is moral strength based on ethical principles. Character is revealed by our deeds and actions and not just words, especially when there is a gap between what we want to do, and what we should do, especially when doing the right thing costs more than we want to pay. Character is also not whether we accomplish our ambitions or goals in life, but how we truly live life through a lifetime.
What I took from that relationship was difficult, but it’s something we have to face in our early twenties, usually, and that’s 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.
As a Christian I know that God sees all, and that He remembers all, and is ultimately the final judge of our actions in a lifetime spent on earth. Reputation is what people say you are; character is what God knows you are. Character is not a fancy coat we put on for public show only. Character is who we truly are, and will be judged by accordingly, on earth as well as in heaven. If you always concentrate on building character, your reputation will build itself. Develop your character, and you will never have regrets.
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 rewards 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 does 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 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. Your 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.
One cannot fully control his reputation, but he is always in charge of his character. What would your life look like if you stopped working on your reputation and started working on your character?