I think there is something that needs to be talked about that I don’t hear addressed nearly often enough. It’s a question that only came into my mind fairly recently, but once the thought was there in my mind, it never left. It sits at the forefront of my thoughts like a song I can’t get out of my head. With the way our world communicates today, it’s an issue that is arising in a new, more powerful form that I personally think is unprecedented. The question that’s on my mind is this: “How much of my life is lived out for the purpose of shaping everyone’s perception of me?”
Reputation is important… don’t get me wrong. I just have to wonder with how prevalent something like social media is in our every day lives how many things are done because they’re image valuable, or how many things are said or bought out of the desire to put something on display. How what we think others might think of us affects our decision-making when we really get down to it. If you stop and ask yourself “why?” enough times, you might find something you didn’t expect because it wasn’t floating on the surface for you to see. Maybe deep down, you care a lot more than you want to admit.
I’m not here to accuse you of caring too much or to make you feel guilty for caring at all. What I’ve realized in my life recently is just how futile it is to live our lives from a place of wanting to be a certain someone, look a certain way, and be perceived a certain way by others. If your idea of success is “being admired” or “having everyone think highly of me,” I’m here to tell you that it’s probably best to leave that goal behind.
Here’s why. The other day, someone made a comment in passing that went something like, “Well, yea, but… your income isn’t stable, so…” I wasn’t aware that my income wasn’t stable, but in this person’s mind, it was. That was their perception of me. Here I was thinking that it was obvious how successful my business has been lately, and yet there is still at least one person who thinks what I do isn’t the greatest career choice. They don’t actually think very highly of me after all. In fact, that’s their “yeah, but…” when it comes to what they think of me. More on that later.
There was an interview I read several years ago where Taylor Swift talks about how pointless it is to try and control the world’s perception of her. This woman is a multi-millionaire. She owns several multi-million-dollar properties around the world. She’s in a successful long-term relationship with a very attractive, very British young actor. She’s won Grammy’s, had countless number one hits, and has experienced more luxury in one year than most of us could dream of experiencing in our lifetimes. Yet… people hate her. If her goal is to have everyone think highly of her or to be held in high esteem by the world… it’s a goal she’ll never achieve.
I think that’s a pretty eye-opening example as to why pursuing anything for the sake of shaping people’s perception of us is a complete waste of time.
You could have everything in the world… and people will still hate you.
The older I get, the more I learn that what others think of me says a lot more about them than it says about me.
In that same interview, Taylor Swift shares something she’s observed when it comes to competition between women in particular. She said something along the lines of, “I’ve noticed that no matter what a woman might accomplish, there’s always a ‘yeah, but.’
“Oh she won a Grammy, yeah… but she can’t keep a boyfriend, so…”
“She runs her own business, yeah… but her income isn’t stable, so…”
“Yeah, they have a beautiful home, but I bet their mortgage sucks, so…”
What even is the point of this “yeah, but” game? It’s like you’re trying to make yourself feel better by negating all the good things someone has with a dose of “reality” that balances it out or levels the playing field for you. If you find yourself playing this “yeah, but” game to build yourself up by mentally cutting other people down, you should ask yourself what that really says about you.
Taylor went on to explain in the article that no matter what she seemed to accomplish, if someone’s heart wasn’t in the right place, none of it mattered.
If love isn’t there, bitter jealousy takes its place far more often than apathy does. When love isn’t there, the “yeah, but…” will always rear its ugly head sooner rather than later.
Walking into this year, I wanted this to be the first thing I share because I think many of us fall into the toxic trap of impression management:
“Impression management is a conscious or subconscious process in which people attempt to influence the perceptions of other people about a person, object or event. They do so by regulating and controlling information in social interaction. Impression management is usually used synonymously with self-presentation, in which a person tries to influence the perception of their image either in face-to-face communication or computer-mediated communication.” -Piwinger, Manfred; Ebert, Helmut (2001). “Impression Management: How Nobody Becomes Somebody”
Computer-mediated communication. That’s the scientific term for any sort of communication that takes place using an electronic device… in today’s world, that’s more often than not referred to as social media.
There’s a lot to be studied here, but the bottom line is this: If someone as beautiful and successful as Taylor Swift can’t make the world love her, why should you waste any time trying?
Let me put it another way… if the actual Son of God couldn’t make the world love Him and was instead crucified (killed) by the people He loved in the most brutal and degrading way… why should we waste any time trying?
Once I started to ask myself how often I engage with impression management, I started to see just how often that really is. It’s a lot.
My industry likes to refer to impression management as “branding.” On some level, it is branding, and it’s necessary to run a successful personable business. However, it’s never JUST branding when you ARE your brand. When what you’re branding and marketing is rooted in what’s personal, there’s a very fine line between what’s true and what’s exaggerated, and there’s a very slippery slope from health and wellness to a very unhealthy, very toxic place.
Don’t let yourself go there. The first step is recognizing where impression management may be taking over your thoughts, your heart, your life. We should all care at some level about our reputations, but if you find yourself…
- Doing or buying something mostly because of how it will look
- Going somewhere mostly to be able to share it on social media
- Purposefully omitting information from a conversation to make you look better
- Making up compliments you don’t mean to flatter someone you don’t really like to make it seem like you like them or to make you seem nicer than you really are
- Changing the subject of a conversation to avoid sharing your weaknesses (avoiding vulnerability)
- Doing something nice for someone mostly to gain that person’s trust or approval
- If you’re doing something you don’t even LIKE to do, but you’re doing it FOR the “likes,” …you’re probably engaging in a little too much impression management.
At some level, we ALL engage in impression management every day. We NEED to.. it’s just how society works! However, too much impression management can be toxic for our hearts and minds and can actually damage our relationships rather than fortify them. Identify any unhealthy habits in your life for what they are… impression management that has gotten out of control… and make an effort to stop doing things for the “approval ratings” because no one is ever going to always approve of you. You’re never going to have everyone thinking highly of you. Even if you have most people admiring you to your face, chances are in their own moment of weakness, they’re going to fall right back on their “yeah, but…” they have for you that they keep tucked away in the crevices of their heart.
Human beings are sinful creatures. I know that sounds religious, so I’ll say it in a different way. We’re wrong. We’re corrupt. We’re flawed and so imperfect. One of those imperfections is jealousy, which leads to competitive motive, which leads to wedges in friendships, the loss of trust, and soon you find yourself saying hurtful words or taking hurtful actions that steal far more from you than the little they give.
Don’t give in. Don’t let that “yeah, but…” creep into your mind when you see someone doing all the things you’ve always wanted to do.
Instead, choose love.
“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”-C.S. Lewis