By Jeff Miller
Have you ever been concerned about your appearance, whether in person or online? Wondering if you might have that proverbial piece of spinach caught in your teeth?
I am still unpacking a concept Peter Greer called “impression management” in his recent book, The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, and wanted to share a few thoughts on how it also might apply to other areas of our lives.
Peter told of a time early in his relief work career when he realized he was thinking more about what the people at home would think of the photos of his noble work rather than really seeing the people in front of him and the impact of the work itself. Later in his chapter entitled: “How do I look? The spiritual danger of being obsessed with what others think” Peter stated: “Many people who do good have sleepless nights, wondering how did I do? Did people like what I had to say? Did people give me a high rating? It is an obsession with impression management — and it is spiritually dangerous. When we’re consumed with thinking much of ourselves, we are incapable of thinking much of God (or others)”
Today, there is much buzz around establishing, managing and maintaining your personal brand and online identity. To know and establish your voice or point of view and your look—so when you or something of yours is seen, read or heard it will be recognized as from you. Now don’t get me wrong, there is much good in this (and as a marketing professional I understand). But, as in anything, it must be kept balanced or it can begin to own you (instead of you owning it).
I would propose three areas where we need to be aware…
1. what we look like
2. what we do and say in person (offline)
3. what we do and say online
Brands are powerful today and our association with them, by wearing, carrying, driving, eating, drinking or friending can speak much about us. I personally am concerned (maybe too much) about being a walking billboard for someone else. My teen daughter, on the other hand, has less of an issue with this. So, we have an ongoing discussion around this and I am interested in her thoughts. Over the years, I have also seen this play out when taking visiting international co-workers shopping. Many of whom were more concerned about the brand name on the items than if the shoes, clothes or gifts being purchased actually looked nice or really fit.
Earlier this year, I saw a lot of coverage around the online aspects of this identity dilemma. With the expanding influence of social media, I believe this will continue to gain more momentum. Reality TV has also heightened visibility around keeping up with people from many walks of life (the Kardashians, Robertsons, Thompsons, Duggars and others). Or, check out “Catfish: The TV Show” a docudrama about the truths and lies of online dating. This is an area with broad reaching implications, especially if we are intentional about being real with ourselves, with others and with God.
A few questions I ask myself when considering my appearance and actions are… who am I modeling myself after, hoping to become or look like? Am I OK with myself and who I was created to be? Or, am I trying to recreate myself to be someone else or a facade of who I would like to be seen as?
We need to be aware of our motivations. What lies behind what we do and say (and don’t do or say)? What drives who it is we desire people to see and know about ourselves through word and deed?
Through this awareness, we will be empowered to make good choices, whether in person or online. And in those choices, better understand who we really are and what we reflect to others.
So, would love to hear about areas of impression management you ponder?And, what have you done to keep your thoughts others-focused and not self-centered around making yourself look good?