The gala started thirty-five minutes ago and you are still at home, your date already fatigued from having to repeatedly assuage your concerns about your tie. You may be late, but no matter, you have sent an emissary ahead. Though you are not yet there to wolf down canapés and imbibe flutes of champagne, your reputation mingles in the crowd. It may be greeted with open arms and air kisses or given the cold shoulder. Not to make you paranoid, but unless you are so anodyne as to be unremarkable, it is likely that your name is on people’s lips, for better or worse. When you finally glide into the hall, the partygoers will either be ashamed of their gossip or glad to share it with you. If your good reputation is still intact, it will be the latter.
Your reputation is a personal stereotype: a convenient taxonomy allowing others to place you within the context of their own lives. Like a stereotype, a reputation is unfair in that it oversimplifies that which is complex: the ebbs and flows of your existence. However, any lamentations about one’s reputation fall, as they should, on deaf ears because reputations are entirely of one’s own making. They are created, destroyed, and resurrected directly through the actions and omissions of one’s self.
Reputations may be ethereal, but they can have tremendous tangible impact. In business, the strength of one’s client base, staff, referral sources, mentors, and other contacts is directly correlated to the fortitude of one’s reputation. From there, it is not a far leap to profitability, in whatever milieu you measure it. Your reputation dictates the quality (or lack thereof) of your spouse, your social circle, your frenemies, whether someone would deign to save you if you were drowning. And, from a legal perspective, your odds for success in litigation of any stripe are bolstered or hindered by your reputation.
Maintaining a great reputation entails constant hard work over the entirety of a lifetime. To always do the right thing, to always be friendly and kind, to be the person that you want your reputation to reflect is sheer exhaustion. Conversely, it is only too easy to ruin a reputation. An errant remark here, a bad choice there and you become persona non grata, at least to one person, if not community-wide. It may seem unfair, but consider how you now view that dude that screwed you over once. You do not like any aspect of him, even though intellectually you can understand that he may have some redeeming qualities.
All aspects of reputation are magnified in a small community such as ours. Because of our tight-knit nature, we rely even more heavily on reputation for our decision-making than in other locales. But our Valley is also more lenient than in other places. A collection of risk-takers, loose cannons, and epicures, we are more willing to forgive the transgressions of others, lest we be judged by the same harsh standards as may apply in a more reactionary region.
With your reputation spreading of its own accord, including through the variegated channels of social media, it is your responsibility to make sure that it is on its best behavior. The next time you enter a room, it would be nice to do so to the tune of giddy exclamations rather than abruptly-terminated whispers.