The Road to 50: Are Our Views of Me In Alignment?

Self-imageMy mind has been so preoccupied lately that I almost forgot that I am celebrating a milestone birthday in just a matter of days. That is until a couple of friends reminded me by e-mail today and one of them thoughtfully welcomed me to the “old farts club”. For that minor transgression, I am making them buy me lunch.

The reminder triggered self-reflection and questions of goals and accomplishments. Am I the man that I set out to be? Is there still time to transform? Do I even care at this point?

The caption in this art work reads “It does not matter how others see you. But it is important how you see yourself.”  I strongly disagree with that sentiment.

Dear friends, we spend a good deal of time and effort creating our personal brands whether consciously or unconsciously. And while we think we know how we are being perceived, we don’t have the faintest idea how we are coming across to others. Studies show only a minor correlation between how you think your viewed and how others view you. For example, you might think that you are engaging and gregarious in public situations. But if people tend to shy away from you at conference gathering, they could find you boring or stand-offish. If people are shying away from you, their perception of you is closer to reality than your own. Why? Because numbers matter. Our individual encounters with one another may be distorted by bias or ego-centrism, but in aggregate the chance of coincidence is dramatically reduced.

My wife Angela often accuses me of having a “dark soul”. I certainly hope that is not how I am coming off to others. It certainly is not a part of my branding strategy. I am not a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of fellow. I am closer to being a what’s-in-this-glass and why-this-particular-glass kind of guy.

I spend a good portion of my day analyzing data. Everything from audience ratings data, to web site analytics, to financial performance; the aggregated data gives as accurate a picture of performance as any. In that same spirit, I turned to friends and family to measure their perception of me against my own.

Based on individual one-word responses that describe me, I created 5 themed buckets to categorize what people think.

The fullest bucket was Attitude.

Attitude

The Attitude bucket contains descriptors like candid; determined; opinionated; intense; and relentless. These can be both positive and/or negative and you’ll get no argument from me. The more colorful descriptors include “fierce”, assigned by Anne Messenger; former classmate Hillery Brown’s “whimsical”; and colleague and friend Ron Jones’ “Mackdaddy“. I literally LOL’ed on that one. I’ll admit that I give off plenty of attitude; both good and bad. No doubt partly resulting from my quick-tempered, irascible, and determined demeanor.

The second fullest bucket was Cultured. In the Cultured bucket you’ll find descriptors like fashionable; jazzy; debonair; worldly; and renaissance. I particularly appreciated former classmate Tina Tarrant’s “Metrosexual”; former classmate Sharon Faulcon-Harney’s “quintessential”; and my good friend Lisa Resper France’s “Bon Vivant”.  Classy ladies…very classy. It’s true. I dig fine food, a good bottle of wine and a kick-ass pair of wingtip brogues.

The third ranked bucket was Intellect. Smart; intellectual; thinker; well-rounded; and informative were common themes. I enjoy learning and sharing information. It is important to work for continuous improvement. And while my wife Angela often says that my head is “full of useless information”, the act of discovery is an enjoyable part of life for me. I appreciated my friend Jay Washington’s comment, “I actually look for your post and enjoy interacting with you.” Likewise brother!

Bucket number 4 was the Values bucket. Former WAER student Jim Patry claimed I was “fatherly” which made me feel real old. Others said caring; supportive; familial; grateful; profound; and dedicated. My favorite response was from my 15-year-old daughter, Hadiya, who described me as “devoted”. I almost teared up on that one.

The 5th and final bucket I called Physical. Strong, manly and handsome represented the few sparse crumbs of accolades for my “old fart” physical being. Though Jen Bailey Robb referred to me as “eye candy” and that was the highlight of this exercise.

So how did our views of me align? There was some agreement and some disconnects. In my view of myself and how I present through word and action, I would have thought Cultured would have topped the list. It was a very close second so, in that sense, we were pretty aligned. The disconnect, however, in our views of me is apparent in the high aggregation of Attitude descriptors and the relatively low consensus on Intellect. I’ll refrain from telling you all to kiss my ass for fear that I’ll be accused of giving off too much attitude. While I don’t consider myself an intellectual in either professional discipline or high academic achievement, I do highly value intellectual pursuit, intellectual conversation and the need to question everything. I am, after all, a public radio professional.

When it comes to your personal brand or reputation, it’s not about how you view yourself. What matters is how the world sees you. As I draw closer to crossing the 50 yard line, I am comfortable with how the world sees me. But I still have some work to do.

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3 thoughts on “The Road to 50: Are Our Views of Me In Alignment?

  1. I’ve seen you in action for, what, 20 years, Joe B. Lee? You are all of those descriptors and then some as you work a room, work a crowd, work with me one-on-one. And that ain’t easy, man. Smart is book knowledge and street sense and the ability to merge them and divide them and conquer with them as tools. Culture is cuing into music and wine and food and family, staking claim to yours and expanding to include other people’s. Physicality is, well, working at and with what you were given without lording over other people who weren’t and don’t. So that’s what I see in Joe B. Lee as he nears the Big 5-0. Happy milestone, sir. Thanks for another perceptive post, and for embracing me in my second media swing here in Syracuse, and for being my friend.

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