On Sunday afternoon my family took a walk through a cemetery near where I live in Switzerland. It was a lovely day, and we all find cemeteries fascinating places. However, this cemetery was made extra interesting by one man whose "headstone" was a life sized, nude statue. Fully nude. Not knowing much about art, and never having met this guy, I can't say whether it's a copy of something famous or a depicition of the deceased.
I know nothing about this person, but now I will never forget him. And how will I remember him? As the guy who thought it would be a great idea to put up a naked statue of himself, so that his grandchildren and great grandchildren can get to really know him--far better than they ever really wanted to. In fact, I now know him in a way I don't want to know him.
Of course, we took a picture. And now I'm writing about it. And what was this guy thinking when he chose this for his eternal remembrance? (Or what was his wife thinking? Because, really, should my husband precede me in death I wouldn't think, "Hey, I know! Nude statue!")
This isn't an article about philosophy or death. I'm writing it because we often encounter people we haven't met before. People who may want to hire us. People we may want to hire. People we want to get to know better. And our first impressions matter.
You could tell me that the deceased was a Nobel Prize winner who cured cancer, took in orphans, and removed landmines in his spare time and I'll say, "Wow! Naked statue guy did all that?" Because that is how I will remember him.
You can have an Ivy League degree, earn your first million by the time you're 25 and give 50 percent of your income to charity, but if you're rude to receptionists, you're going to be described as "that jerk who makes X." If you cut people off in traffic, don't hold elevator doors, scratch your private parts in public, and yell at your underlings, that's how you'll be remembered. If your work is sloppy, your emails lack capital letters (seriously people, they are free!), and you're late to every meeting, that is how people will remember you.
When you do things, do you think, "I am doing this in order to make a good impression?" Or do you just assume that because people have liked you in the past, all these new people will like you in the future? Or are you assuming that your skills and brilliance will counteract any stupid thing you do?
I tell employees that they should never, ever burn a bridge if they can absolutely help it. (Sometimes, it is, I admit, impossible.) But bosses seem to think they are free from rules of good conduct when it comes to how they treat a departing employee. Don't think for an instant that just because you are the boss and it's a buyer's market right now that you can treat your employees however you want. Sometime you may be on the other side of the interviewing game and you don't to be facing people you treated poorly.
And let's talk about social media. I love social media. But it's easy to forget that despite popular parlance, you're not actually among friends. Your among people who may like you now, but have no motivation to keep anything untoward that you might say confidential. Do you really want to be known as the guy who said something shocking on Twitter? (Answer: Maybe. But make sure it's a choice.)
You need to think about how your actions affect what people think of you. And make sure that you are remembered for what you want to be remembered for. The last thing you want is your Nobel Prize overshadowed by your naked grave statue (or your dumb Twitter comment).