The ancient Greeks were right. Since the time of Aristotle, the word ethos in their language equates to the contemporary English word character. Welcome to the fifth installment in my series of blog posts about creating or fixing your personal brand.
Since ancient times in Greece, person’s character was highly valued as one of the main ingredients in what today we call your personal brand.
It is without doubt a very long and winding road from the dominance of ancient Greece to the rise of the prominence of Lady Gaga. But, she knows what the Greeks of thousands of years ago knew. The perceptions about your character can determine your success or failure in life.
What others perceive of your most dominant character trait (e.g., friendly, grumpy, warm, cold, reclusive, trustworthy, etc.) matters significantly in whether your personal brand becomes an asset or a liability for you and also if your personal brand turns out to be a financial plus for a loss of wealth for you. It turns out that you should accept responsibility for how others perceive of your character traits–dominant or not–because ultimately you are only person who can change those perceptions.
You’re Not a Child
Unless you are still a high school student, you should have long ago stopped blaming others for how you are perceived in terms of your character traits. It’s easy to blame one’s parents. It’s easy to fault the person you married. None of those excuses are valid, however. All of us adults should attain an adult’s sensibility when it comes to accepting personal responsibility for how others perceive of us.
Beyond accepting that your character is your responsibility, there is more work for you to do. If you want to change how others perceive your character, you must choose to do so deliberately. Waiting for everyone else to change how they perceive of your character is the wrong choice to make under any circumstances.
Repairing Incorrect Perceptions
To fix your personal brand so that it serves you well, it may be necessary for you to repair what you see as “incorrect” perceptions of your character. Others see you as selfish, but you consider yourself to be just fine. That could be an indication that you are misperceiving your own traits.
It’s real easy to find examples in the real world: A convicted felon insists on his innocence. A liar and a thief in the world of partisan politics only sees the good in himself. A religious leader who falls into disgrace because of a sexual scandal maintains that he never did anything wrong.
Your situation and your character may involve less dramatic elements. But, the process of repairing what you consider to be incorrect perceptions is the same for you as it is for the infamous and the notorious.
The simple rule of thumb is: Create and shape perceptions of your character by how you choose to behave. Find ways to demonstrate that you are genuinely a generous person even though others perceive you as selfish. Find ways to prove that you are honest and trustworthy by your behaviors that can mitigate negative perceptions about your sincerity or your honesty.
Celebrities have it easier than the rest of us. Celebrities have the money and the connections to enable travel to Africa or Haiti or anywhere else to volunteer their time (in front of cameras, of course) to advance a social cause that will put a positive spin on public perceptions about their character. Anyone is not a celebrity will have a more difficult time in redefining his or her character. But, there also is the benefit of not having paparazzi following you when you run errands to the dry cleaners.
The simple reality is that anyone can change how he or she is perceived. If this is what you intend to do, you must do so deliberately without regret and have specific strategies to guide your efforts.
Putting On The New You
One core strategy that you will need is accepting that you are putting on a new, improved version of your former self. You can think of this as being similar in many respects to choosing to put on different clothing that you have previously worn. This is not putting on in the sense of pretending or faking. Your new strategy must include your genuine belief in this new, improved version of you.
We can look to famous people for examples of how to morph into new, improved versions. Michael Vick and Martha Stewart are two such examples. Both people were convicted and served prison time, yet they both came back afterwards into the world with new, improved versions of themselves. If you want to succeed like these two people succeeded in putting on new versions of themselves, the point is that you need to desire to create your own new, improved version of yourself and then take the necessary follow-through steps to make it so.
Not a Linear Process
Developing a perceived character for yourself that is seen as an improvement from the way you were is not a strictly linear process. You should expect that your desired outcome of a perceived character seen as a newer and better you may sometimes require pain, suffering, and taking one step backwards for every one step forward. I believe that this is just part of real life. Nobody should expect happily-ever-after Hollywood endings.
You must make a deliberate choice, however. Remaking your perceived character can never happen by accident. The choice must be yours. Then, you must follow-through and accept that forward momentum will not be in a straight line where there is always only positive movement.
How to Choose
Knowing how to choose the way you want to be perceived as far as your character goes might just be the most vital ingredient for you. Every person’s choice may be different, but how one makes the choice remains constant.
I would urge you to write down (or type out) all the character traits that others perceive in you. Be brutally honest with yourself in committing these to paper and save what you write or type somewhere as one of the vital documents in your life.
Organize your perceived character traits into three categories–positive, neutral, and, negative. It is the neutral and negative traits that you want to focus upon.
Choosing a new you will be best if you choose character traits that align with the person that you already are. For instance, if your choice is to be known as someone who unselfishly helps people fight poverty in far off countries, yet never have traveled outside of the United States, you’d be starting off with a choice that is not in alignment with the real you.
I’m not suggesting that the key to success in fixing your personal brand is volunteerism. There’s an old saying: “Charity begins at home.” If you want to be known as unselfish and generous and helpful yet at home you are a grumpy, self-centered, antisocial person, you’re starting off in the wrong direction. In every situation, no matter what, a person must change inside first before he or she can put on a new, improved version for everyone outside of his or her own skin.
In my next blog post on this website, I will jump into identifying and communicating your uniqueness as you create or fix the best possible personal brand for yourself.