What People Think

One of our customers, I’ll call him Mark, aggressively insisted that we give him free car washes, even after we discontinued the program. When he purchased a new vehicle today, we asked him if he wanted to include a maintenance plan. He declined, stating that he doesn’t do his service with us, he just takes the free washes.

I would be mortified to demand such special privileges, especially if my loyalty to the company was mediocre. Unlike Mark, I have an acute awareness of what other people might think about me. Mark is more worried about getting a deal for himself; I am more concerned with doing the right thing for the relationship. If it occurs to him that we might be expressing our disappointment after he leaves, it certainly doesn’t seem to matter. I, on the other hand, am so sensitive to what people might say when I walk away, that I have a lifetime of unnecessary purchases to show for it.

People always tell you that you shouldn’t care what others think about you, and for certain circumstances, that is absolutely true. You have to be authentic and let the chips fall where they may when you are following your heart. Yet, when I look back on the significant successes of my life, I realize that they were strongly driven by the opposite motivation. The truly cool things about me grew out of a carefully cultivated garden called What People Think. Marketing people might call it building your personal brand, others might label it nurturing your reputation. Brought down to the lowest denominator, you might even call it good ole fashioned giving a shit. Whatever you call it, it is a skill like any other, and it includes knowing when to put it into play.

Twenty years ago, I suffered from many of the common maladies of youth: procrastination, laziness, selfishness, sloppiness. My main priority was my appearance. I spent an obscene amount of time on my hair and makeup, and fished for compliments in the same way a flower leans toward the sun to maximize exposure to light. I wanted to be the nice person who was also attractive. That was about the extent of my garden. What people thought about my looks was such a big deal, that even if I was exhausted or broke, I would find a way to make sure I was polished and shiny when the moment called for it.

Over time, I starting caring about other aspects of my brand, as well. Worrying about what my co-workers would say inspired me to be punctual, work hard and not take the last cupcake. Concern for what the server would think pushed me to be a heavy tipper and not send anything back. Caring about my friends meant showing an interest in their hobbies and listening more than talking. Awareness of the people around me precluded me from overindulging in cocktails. Wanting Kevin to think of me as a good spouse inspired me to be neat and organized around the house.

As I get older, I care much less about appearance-related opinions and much more about ones pertaining to my character. I think about my legacy and the kinds of things I would want to be known for after I am gone. If descriptors such as hardworking, kind and thoughtful are batted around at my funeral, I will be happy with that. Over time, the motivation of caring about the opinions of others has evolved into caring about people in general. Recently I embraced a personal mission statement that simply states -Be a blessing to someone today. I still care what they think about me, but more than that, I care how they feel. Now that is a garden worth nurturing.

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