Our oldest son graduated from high school yesterday and among the speakers at the graduation was a member of the school board. Mixed in with the usual dream big and work hard messages was wisdom about the importance of protecting their reputations as they moved out in to the world. This sentiment was met with spontaneous applause from many in attendance. Yes, all the old folks, myself included, understood how priceless this advice was for the graduating class of 2016.
Hang on while I climb off my dinosaur and put down the brontosaurus burger. Back in the day, we would rather die than leave any possible evidence of wrong doing. The unspoken rule of surviving childhood, and our often questionable decision making skills, was avoiding leaving tangible proof at all costs.
No photos, video, or even written words were allowed. We would rather eat paper and ink than to get caught in possession of an incriminating note. Video cameras were the size of microwaves and completely outside of our access. Polaroid cameras were the enemy.
We survived because of the unspoken honor code and understood when one was snagged, we all suffered dings to our backsides and reputations. We had a firm grasp on the importance of staying off the hoodlum list in our neighborhood.
Getting removed from that list was nearly impossible unless you moved away and started over somewhere else. The awareness of how we would be seen by adults or those outside of our inner circle was a definite concern. I miss the days when people were protective of their reputations and kept a closer handle on personal information.
There are countless avenues for sharing today. Thanks to social media and technology, endless opportunities for sharing and documenting our lives exist. While not a bad thing in and of itself, there can be consequences when we impulsively react to situations, share too much personal information, or document behavior that may bite us in the ass or damage our reputation.
I am right there with those who may be wondering where I get the nerve to talk about oversharing after writing a memoir about coming out later in life. I get it. Any who have read Switching Teams will notice there is plenty I did not say. Some have expressed disappointment about not finding enough drama within the pages. Side note to self: You can’t please everyone.
Naturally, I was concerned about how I would be perceived, judged, and evaluated. I was mindful of the beliefs or opinions that would result from my words being published, which is the definition of reputation by the way.
Private moments, details, and memories were intentionally omitted from the final draft not out of fear, but out of necessity. Sure, it may have provided a more sordid tale or more interesting reading, but it did not add to the message.
Like it or not, our reputation is how the world views us. It is a measure of our character and can stir up emotions when we realize people are picking up exactly what we are putting out. Ouch. Behaving in ways that contradict who we are can project an inaccurate picture to those around us and can result in pain, sadness, or feeling disconnected from the world.
Paying appropriate attention to how others view us is a vital check and balance to our authenticity and is not the same as conforming to how other’s think we should be in order to be accepted by them. Writing a book was a lesson in humility and a crash course on learning to honestly share experiences which were very personal in nature. Being mindful of how we present ourselves to the world will help us to become more grounded in who we truly are when no one is looking.
Authenticity is being comfortable with every part of who we are, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. A good reputation can cover over a multitude of sins, mitigate mistakes, and show our ability to recover from lapses in judgments. If we look at a reputation as something we are responsible for creating and maintaining internally, what other’s see will match our true selves.
Presenting the most genuine version of ourselves may be scary at times, but it is a practice that will never fail us, or those around us. Authenticity requires brutal honesty directed at ourselves which cannot be impacted by the opinions of others. This is what I heard while sitting in the graduation ceremony.
Making certain we are sharing our most authentic selves with the world requires us to edit at times. If character is a crayon, reputation is the coloring book. I encourage you to take a moment and scan the completed coloring book pages pinned to your walls. Who do you see?
The truth is our lives become less complicated and more open to what the world and people in it have to offer when who we are matches what we do. Be gentle but honest in your assessment of areas in need of improvement and celebrate the hell out of the areas where you are kicking ass. As I climb back on my dinosaur, I remind you to breathe and trust that at this moment you are exactly where you are supposed to be.