We are our own worst critics. The intimate, unique perspective we have on our own lives and thoughts lends itself to being harsh and judgmental of things that, often, others don’t even notice.
And in this struggle for balance, finding out who we are and want to become, deciphering true values from critical perceptions, comes our reputations. A constant curiosity wanting to know how others see us and think of us.
While we have reputations to uphold, are they holding us back? Are we setting expectations for ourselves that will only do more harm than good?
Overwhelming pressures to face.
In life, professional and educational, I’ve been bombarded with messages stressing the importance of a reputation. Especially if you’re at all involved in the media or related fields, your reputation can be the pivotal foundation that makes or breaks your entire career. So no pressure, right?
Whenever I come back to visit my hometown, a small place in the Midwest, I am further reminded of the world I left behind, one that is very dependent on reputation and public image. Anybody from a small town knows that everybody talks about everybody else. Any slight deviation from the norm is the immediate talk of the town.
This quality is especially difficult for those who try to build up a very respectable reputation. Throughout my time growing up, that felt like the ultimate goal: be associated with the best qualities and always be my best self so others view me as “worthy.” I think everybody has some longing to be known and recognized for something, whether that’s good or bad. It’s better to be something rather than nothing, right?
Not according to plan.
Even if you have a vision in your head of how you want to be, you can’t control how life pans out and others’ thoughts and actions.
In my time focusing on my reputation and striving toward the good side of things, working hard to establish for myself an admirable image, it wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If others expect you to be the best student in the class, the one who will always be nicest person in the room, or the one who will always work the hardest, anything less than that leads to questions and concerns.
Perhaps even worse is the standards we place on ourselves. While we can adopt a mentality that says “Who cares what other people think?” but the ultimate judge is ourselves. Especially for those of us who are perfectionists, who strive for unrealistically high standards and feel crushed when we can’t meet them.
Another area of concern in personal image is appearance. And, with my tendencies, those usually turn toward body image. Much of the physical representation of my eating disorder focused on controlling and maintaining an unrealistic small shape. I judged my reputation and worth on the amount of flesh I could grab on particular body parts. Which, when explained in that wording, sounds slightly ridiculous, but in the recesses of the disorder, it’s the only thing that makes sense. Even when outside parties could probably care less about that aspect of my image, it was at one point a key factor in how I felt would portray my best self.
Either way, from others or from yourself, going against an established reputation turns into disappointment. And if there’s one feeling I despise the most, it’s feeling like I’m disappointing others and myself.
Putting on a mask.
Why do we feel obligated to adhere to certain criteria and anything besides that is wrong?
Keeping up a public image and facade can be exhausting. Knowing how people view mental health and how it manifests at the drop of a hat, I’ve become a pretty good actor, hiding any inner battles with a smile and serious mentality toward academics. When you learn to become very high-functioning, any crack in the armor feels like ultimate defeat.
Social media also doesn’t help with keeping up a reputation. With every post and image that is linked to your account, never truly being able to delete the content, we have the responsibility to maintain a satisfactory reputation 24/7. Every action, online and offline, turns into an inner dilemma wondering what’s right and wrong. We see other people’s profiles, wondering if we can do better and try harder to keep up. It’s a battle we’ll just never be able to win nor see an end in sight.
Realizing this relationship we have with our outward image, controlling and “perfecting” every crevice, using filters to ensure we’re viewed under the best lighting, it all feels so fake. Our reputations are a facade for truly expressing ourselves and communicating our realities with others. We may think we’re keeping it all together and doing our best, but all we’re doing is learning how to put on a circus act that distracts from how we really are and how we really feel.
Another way of thinking.
Regardless of how much we want to control and the image we want to present, we can only do so much. We’ll all inevitably make mistakes, go different directions, and do things we (and others!) likely expected us to do. There’s nothing wrong with being unpredictable sometimes, going against the grain, and simply listening to where our hearts guide us. Our happiness doesn’t depend upon on how we look to others, but on how we view ourselves. Your character and values are what matter: that’s who you actually are.
The only ones who have to justify our decisions are ourselves. You should make decisions and pursue passions because you want to. It’s enough to simply live and juggle all that’s thrown at us; we don’t need a whole audience watching over us if we don’t want to. Sure, some people put themselves out there, but excess gossip is unnecessary in most every situation.
Rather than gossiping about one another, let’s actually talk and be real about it. Asking how we’re actually feeling, addressing the difficult topics, not tabooing and stigmatizing what’s uncomfortable. We have the ability to use platforms and communicate with one another in innumerable ways, but the more time we waste on how our image looks takes away from that.
In the scheme of everything, reputation is so small in importance. If you have the urge to do something different, just do it. If you need a break from life just to recuperate, just do it. Now I’m sounding like a Nike commercial, but sometimes it really is that simple.
Live a life that makes you happy, not one that others, or even yourself, expect you to live.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie