Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your level of success is defined by your reputation. The fact is that your character is much more important in defining your success than your reputation ever will be. Your character defines the person you really are, regardless of the circumstances in which you find yourself. Your reputation, on the other hand, is nothing more than what some people think you are in certain circumstances.
Be more concerned about your character than you are about your reputation and your reputation will take care of itself. In the long term your reputation will become a by-product of your character. If you are of strong character your consistent exemplary behaviour will mean that even insulting remarks about you will be meaningless because nobody will believe them.
Your character isn’t going to be judged by what you say you believe in, or what you say about how people should act; your character will be judged by how you actually live your life. This is a lesson that I was fortunate to learn first-hand when I was a teenager.
I was working with a gentleman by the name of Brian Williams, a very common name but a very uncommon man. One winter day, just after a snow storm, he was driving to a sporting event in a fairly isolated suburb of Toronto. Brian was a relatively new driver with a relatively old car. He was inching his way along an icy patch when he lost control and skidded into the side of a parked car. Brian’s bumper took the impact with the result that there was no damage at all to his car (this was back when bumpers actually absorbed bumps), but the door on the driver’s side of the other car was badly dented. The car he hit was the only one on the road, and it was obvious from the amount of snow on it that it had been parked there for quite some time. There wasn’t a person within sight and there were no houses close enough for anyone to be able to clearly see Brian’s license number. But Brian left a note with his name and telephone number on it. That’s character.
It’s always a good measure of character to observe how people behave when they think no one is watching. People with character don’t change their ethics according to circumstances. Those who would have left a note on the damaged car if they thought someone might have gotten their license number, but wouldn’t have under Brian’s circumstances, are not in the same character league as Brian.
Another good measure of a person’s character is how they behave when they are wrong. The person, who upon realizing that he or she is wrong quickly admits it, is a person of strong character. The most successful people that I’ve had the pleasure of working with never had a problem admitting they were wrong, a characteristic that not only saved a lot of time but always enhanced their reputations.
Character is much easier kept than recovered. It’s obvious that I formed a very high opinion of Brian’s character on that wintry day. But suppose he had gotten out, put a blank sheet of paper under the other car’s windshield wiper, and then said, “Anyone watching will think I left my name and number.” How many future demonstrations of ethical behaviour on Brian’s part do you think it would have taken for me to reach the same level of respect for his character as I did in the actual circumstances? I seriously doubt that he could ever have recovered my respect.
It’s often been said that playing a sport builds character. This may be true in some small respect in the case of children playing team sports during their formative years. But, based on my own playing and officiating days and my extensive experience in dealing with professional athletes, when it comes to adults it’s more accurate to say that playing a sport reveals character rather than builds it. Temptation, adversity, greed, fear and power all test and reveal character; all are present in sport and all are present in everyday life. How you act in these situations will reveal your true character.
The following ten rules will help you be true to yourself when you find your character being severely tested.
- If you’re going to insist on having your rights, be prepared to live up to your responsibilities.
- The right motive is more important than the right move; do things because they’re right, not because they’re clever.
- Don’t let others set your standards, be true to yourself.
- To be trusted, be trustworthy.
- Toughness is a means, not an end.
- Moral courage is rarer than physical bravery; what’s often mistaken for bravery is often just bad judgement.
- When you’re faced with moral decisions remember that it’s really your character that’s being tested, not your reputation.
- To live a worthwhile life, decide what you want written on your tombstone.
- A good reputation may be a wonderful way to open doors, but only character will keep them open; phonies and con artists are soon found out and then usually ushered out.
- It’s never too late to become the person you want to be.