The Rules of Reputation

As an avid baseball fan, I don’t object to the so-called “unwritten rules of the game,” but one in particular gripes me. An all-star caliber pitcher may throw a pitch just outside the strike zone, and the umpire deems it a strike. In a later inning, though, his rookie teammate throws a pitch in the exact same location, and the ump charges him with a ball. Why? Because the veteran has an established reputation of making his mark, whereas the rookie hasn’t proven himself yet.

It isn’t fair, in my opinion, but it illustrates a truth that exceeds the baseball diamond: Reputation can make or break a person. You don’t need to be a professional athlete to have your reputation give you an unfair advantage or disadvantage. Whether we notice it or not, we see it in numerous everyday situations to varying degrees. We may make the same mistake or accomplishment as another person, but our reputation governs how it’s received.

It starts in grade school. A kid who often makes trouble and manifests a lackluster work ethic usually gets disciplined every time he acts up or misses an assignment. An honors student, on the other hand, might have a bad day and misbehave or forget the prior day’s homework, and he hardly gets a word of reproof. This scenario plays out throughout our lives in the workplace and other settings, so we might as well get accustomed to it at a young age.

 Once again, it’s not always fair, but we won’t make it very far by just lamenting this fact of life. Rather, we should use our experiences with it—good or bad—to motivate us to furnish a well-respected repute for ourselves. We can’t take for granted the impact of our actions and decisions in big and small matters.

For instance, what we consider a “white lie” or “no big deal” may dismantle our credibility with someone, especially if it becomes a consistent behavior pattern. Remember the little boy who cried wolf…and became the beast’s dinner? On the flip side, if we string together seemingly minute admirable choices, we might be surprised the esteem it fosters in others.

All this said, I wish I could claim every reputation is hard-earned, but I know that isn’t true. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been stereotyped because of my disability throughout my life, and that affects my reputation quite a bit. While it may help me in certain circumstances, I’ve experienced the converse a fair amount, too. One person may share their misconceptions with friends, and it becomes a lot of others’ misconceptions. This happened to me in several areas of life and stuck me with a reputation that followed me everywhere.

How’d I get past it? For one thing, I just pressed on and endeavored to be the person I knew I could be. I tried not to let it embitter me and not to assume everyone adopted that unfounded view of me. Eventually, I managed to prove myself to the right, open-minded crowd, and they helped improve the way people saw me.

The rules of reputation can be tricky and sometimes unfair, but like it or not, we’re all subject to them. It’s never too late to try to boost yours, whether it’s deserved or not. It’ll take time and hard work, but it’s worthwhile. It’s not really about popularity or kissing up to people. Establishing a good reputation comes with a lot of perks, but the best one of all is lifting your own self-worth. In truth, when you respect yourself, others are bound to follow.     

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