Growing up, I remember my Daddy always telling me and my brother to protect your reputation because it will follow you wherever you go.
No disrespect to my dad, but he didn’t live through the times of social media and this ever-increasingly small world we now live in.
My experience has been that no matter how hard you try to keep your reputation pure and unblemished unless you are willing to give in to the loudest voices, your reputation can change in the blink of an eye.
I have been on this earth for more than half of a century. I have experienced so much that this wonderful world has to offer. I have been truly blessed with wonderful friends, a loving family, and remarkable opportunities for success. I have always been grateful and tried to give back as much as I could. I have tried to never judge people based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. I believe that we are all created in God’s image and that fact makes each one of us equally valuable on this earth.
I grew up surrounded by diversity. I have always embraced it. Actually, I will take that back. I never “embraced” it because I never really thought about it. In my mind people are people and until experiences with a particular person show me otherwise, I like, admire, and respect everyone. I have never believed in the notion that respect is something to be earned but rather that respect is something to be lost. Just like love, I give respect freely until a person proves unworthy of it.
I thought living a life in which my character embraced the idea that everyone is valuable and special would “prove” to the world who I was at my core and my reputation would surely reflect that.
It was September 16, 2016, and I was in the middle of a live stream on Periscope in which I had someone comment and ask if I supported Donald Trump for President. I answered “Yes.” The following comments on my live stream was a barrage of people calling me racist, deplorable, and many unfortunate names that no woman ever wants to be called. I was shocked. SHOCKED. I was shocked and sick to my stomach.
Racist? No one in my entire life had ever called me racist. No one ever called me deplorable. No one ever called me the most derogatory word you could call a woman.
I think it’s important to note that this was just a week after Hillary Clinton had given her speech in which she claimed half of Trump supporters were deplorables. Remember what I said about the loudest voices.
I’m from the south. My whole life I grew up very aware of the historical past southerners had when it comes to race. My whole life we worked hard to prove that is not who the people in the new south are. We are very proud of our southernness but do not embrace the past.
We always remember the past, because as Churchill once said in a speech, “those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
There are so many wonderful things about being a southerner. The values we embrace of God, family, community and country made it a wonderful place to grow up. Traditions are very important in a southerner’s life. We watch our manners, listen to mama, count our blessings, sweeten our tea, and love unconditionally. We are “people people”, meaning we love people. I grew up loving all people. We discipline our children, read our Bibles, and will hug your neck.
The symbols of the south for me growing up included the Confederate flag. I was always proud that we had transformed something from such a negative time into a symbol of southern goodness. For me, it represented music, air shows, car shows, good food, and community. It was a symbol of how people can change.
But now, somehow after more than half a century on this earth, I was suddenly a racist.
So okay, one incident does not define you right?
Well the hits just kept coming.
Suddenly all over social media, I was being labelled a racist. I was losing clients because they were getting heat from their customers for having me on the team. I was being bombarded on every live stream by vile trolls. Friends and family were attacking me. People I had been friends with since high school suddenly now hated me. I didn’t understand. I was the same person I had always been. I have always been a conservative who believes in opportunity and small government. What changed? My reputation was shot.
Or was it?
What I have come to learn, and this is perhaps one of the most important lessons of my professional and personal life, is that your reputation changes based on the crowd that is talking about you.
Most importantly what I realized was my character never changed. I never changed at my core. I was my true authentic self. I never allowed myself to pander or say things to appease those who were set on ruining my reputation. And once I became aware of how important that was and acted accordingly, my business grew faster than ever, my friends stood with me against the attacks, and I felt great about who I was and what I stood for.
I chose character over reputation.
So what does that mean for those who value their reputation so much?
From a professional standpoint, it is most important that you protect your character and stay authentic to who you really are at your core. Your reputation is truly what others say about you but your character will always show through to those who are your real audience. It’s important that your brand reflects who you really are and what your values really are.
If you spend your time trying to bend to the trends or the voices that are the loudest even if they do not mesh with your true character or what you believe, you will spend a great amount of time morphing your business to attract customers.
From a personal standpoint, when you choose character over reputation, you will find yourself surrounded by people who truly believe in you and support you. You won’t have to try to convince people of who you are, it will shine through.
In this age of social media, online reviews, and keyboard warriors, it is very easy for your reputation to be marred by someone whom you may never have even met in person. You almost have to expect to experience this kind of attack.
I often long for a time when you only had the neighbourhood gossip to worry about. It used to be the only people you needed to worry about hurting your reputation were people you actually had contact with. There was no way someone whom you never met could have an actual opinion that anyone would care about. But today with the online world we live in, our reputations are at the mercy of the trolls. So we have to become immune to the noise.
Character over reputation is a much more peaceful way to live. You won’t necessarily always be the most popular person, but you will feel happy knowing you are true to yourself. When you look at yourself in the mirror you will like the person you see.