How to Build a Better Reputation
People who have a great reputation tend to succeed, and that often becomes a virtuous circle: success leads to improved reputation; an improved reputation leads to greater success.
What are you known for? Discover the distinction between resumé values and eulogy values, and see how to use that insight to strengthen and build a better reputation.
Hey, I’m Michael Bungay Stanier from Box of Crayons, and one of the things that we’re concerned about, one of the things that preoccupies many of our minds is “What am I known for? What’s my reputation?” And of course, you can guess right away that people who have a great reputation tend to succeed, and obviously, that becomes a virtuous circle. Success leads to improved reputation; an improved reputation can often lead to greater success.
So one of the questions you might ask yourself is “How do I improve, how do I build, how do I strengthen my reputation?” And I’ve got a few tactics that might be useful for you. The first one is this. It’s about taking care of the foundations. And, look, you’ve heard me talk about this before but it’s so important. So I’m going to come back to it. And it’s this: If you don’t know what your core values are, what your truths are, what these kind of foundational elements of who you are, it’s really hard to strengthen a reputation. Because you need to think of your values as kind of the foundation block upon which you build everything else about you. And if you’re building away from your foundation, you sink into the sand a little bit.
Understanding what your values are allow you to really kind of go, “Right. This is what I am known for in this world. How do I amplify that?” Because that’s the secret. Once you know what your values are, you build your reputation by continuing to identify, strengthen and amplify your values.
So, for instance, one of the values that I have for myself, that really matters for me, I mean, there’s—I think there’s five or six that I really self-identify with, but one of the key ones is around being provocative. I like to stir things up a little bit. I like to kind of mix it up. If people are zigging, I like to zag. If people think this is the received wisdom, I like to go, “Well, what’s the opposite of that?”
Another one of my core values is teaching. I’m like, “I want to transmit knowledge. I want to have that impact in the world. I want to build a reputation for being a teacher.” So, once I know what these core values are, I can ask myself, “Michael, how you doing against being a teacher? How’s that showing up in the world at the moment?” And if you were to fully express that value right now, what might be the best choice you could make to show up like that?
“Michael, how are you doing at showing up and being provocative and kind of nudging people a little, pushing people a little, encouraging people a bit? How are you doing with that?” If you’re really showing up as provocative, what would that look like in the work that you do?
So that’s the starting point around this, which is what am I stand—what do I want to be known for? What are my core values? And it really leads into the second piece, and, you know, I was inspired by this by a New York Times op ed, by a guy called David Brooks. And you can look this up. He basically makes the distinction between résumé values and eulogy values. So résumé values, you can guess, they’re the fancy things you put on your bit of paper when you’re trying to get a job. “I did this. I did that. I got this badge. I got that badge.” You know, “I was anointed this way. I was known for doing this.” Those are résumé values and of course, they can be useful to have.
But eulogy values are the values that people speak about you when you have died. And they stand up and they say, “Here’s the life I want to celebrate from this person. Here’s what this person stood for.” And, you know, I know you’re seeing the connection right back to those core values that we talked about for the very first point, which is about thinking, “Okay, this is the person I want to be in the world” rather than, “These are the things I want to do in the world.” So, really, we’re getting down here to this distinction between being and doing.
And of course part of your reputation comes from what you’ve done but, really, the heart of your reputation, I think, can really exist on who you are, how you show up in this world.
The final thing I’d like to say around building a reputation, it comes from a quote. I should have memorized who told me this. I can’t remember who it is. I think I got it from Gretchen Reuben, actually, the author of—they’re books about happiness.
And she says, or she quotes somebody else saying, “People overestimate what they can achieve in a day. They underestimate what they can achieve in a year.” So part of the key insight around this is it’s not going to be a single act that builds or strengthens your reputation, or at least, you hope not. What happens is how you consistently show up in your life day after day, week after week that slowly, strongly builds your reputation. See, if you’re clear on your values, if you’re clear on the distinction between résumé values and eulogy values and you understand that how do you show up on a day-to-day-to-day-to-day-to-day basis, and to live that, to step forward into that, that’s what builds your reputation.