One of the questions I asked my children often as they were growing up was, “What word do you want other people to use to best describe who you are as a person?” It was a behavioral management strategy I used as a parent to help my kids align their behavior with the answer they gave to the question.
For example, my son, Christopher, consistently would answer my question with the word, “Helpful.” Christopher was by nature a good helper, but having him verbalize it as something he wanted to be known for was useful to me when I especially needed to hold him accountable as a helper.
As a 6th grader participating in the All Stars program in school, he was asked to think about the reputation he most wanted to earn in his future. His answer, “to be a helper”, was of no surprise. It fit. It was consistent with the answer he always gave me when I had asked him the same question at home.
The Getting a Reputation activity in All Stars took it one step further than just simply asking him to state what he wanted his reputation to be. He was asked to partner with someone in the class he most respected to get advice on what he would need to do to earn the reputation he wanted. Of course, Christopher partnered with his best friend, Elijah, who advised him to:
- Volunteer to help without being asked;
- Willingly help when asked; and
- Always have a positive attitude when helping.
As with any advice we get from another person, we can leave it or take it. But when the advice comes from a best friend, you are most likely going to take the advice. And that is exactly what Christopher did. He willingly wrote down on his Getting a Reputation worksheet the three pieces of advice he got from Elijah.
After school Christopher brought the worksheet home to share with me and to ask me for further advice. I still recall telling him how lucky he was to have Elijah as a best friend and that the advice he gave him was the best advice he could get and the same advice I would give him as his mother.
Little did Christopher know that day how important the reputation activity and the discussions that followed with me and Elijah were until six months later…
It was a hot and humid July day and I asked Christopher to pick the tomatoes in the garden. He gave me every excuse as to why he couldn’t do it. I wasn’t in the mood to argue with him. In fact, I knew I didn’t have to argue with him. Within an arm’s reach, hanging on the refrigerator, was his Getting a Reputation worksheet from All Stars. I removed the worksheet from the refrigerator and calmly asked him to listen to what he had written six months earlier in All Stars. I read back to him, “More than anything else, I want to have a reputation of being a helper.” I also read aloud the advice Elijah had given him and that he choose to accept that day, especially the advice to “willingly help when asked.”
I then gave Christopher three options:
- Pick the tomatoes and earn his way towards the reputation he most desires;
- Don’t pick the tomatoes and risk earning an undesired reputation; or
- Choose a new reputation he wants to have if “being a helper” is no longer important to him.
After a moment of silence and a look of dismay, he walked out the door to the garden and picked the tomatoes. He probably cussed me the entire time, but nonetheless, he still did what he was asked to do and proved he could be a helper.
That evening Christopher and I talked about the incident that unfolded earlier in the day. I reminded him of the classroom discussion they had in All Stars six months earlier when it was determined that a reputation is only earned with consistent behavior repeated over a long period of time. I impressed upon him that he can’t earn something he wants if he isn’t willing to do the work over and over to get it. I acknowledged that he probably felt like I was a nagging mother, but I challenged him instead to see me as someone who cared about and loved him enough to call him out when his actions didn’t align with what he said he wanted.
We all want the best in our futures. The real test is whether we are willing to do what we need to do to get it. It’s easy to say one thing and do another. We get lazy, lose focus or have times when we just don’t care and give up. We all tend to get off track. It is then that we most need the help of others to get us back on track. We need people who are important to us to remind us to do what we need to do. What might feel like nagging is really an act of care and love by them towards us. They simply want the best for us.
Now for the rest of the story…
Six years after that hot July day in the garden, my son was graduating from high school. At his party we asked guests to write down on a piece of paper the one word they would use to best describe Christopher. There were many positive words given, but guess which word was given the most often?
As a mother, I couldn’t have been prouder of Christopher. He did the work he needed to do consistently over the years to earn the reputation he always said he wanted from the youngest of age. It wasn’t always easy. There were many times over, I had to help him get back on track. But, at the end, his hard work paid off. He got what he wanted.
When it was revealed that “helpful” was the most common word used by others to describe Christopher, he turned to me and asked, “What do I do now that I’ve earned the reputation I want?”
My answer to him was, “Work even harder to keep it. Earning a reputation is one thing. Keeping it is another.”
Take time to ask your own kids, the students you work with or even yourself the question, “What word do you want other people to use to best describe who you are as a person?” Give it deep thought.Think about specific things you can do repeatedly over a long period of time that will help you earn this desired reputation. Share with others who are important to you what the reputation is that you most want. Accept advice from them on what you can do to earn it. Then, be ready to do the work and be patient. You won’t earn it overnight. It will likely take years. Most importantly, be willing to let others help and support you along the way, especially when you get off track. It’s their way of caring about and loving you and wanting the best for you! Most importantly, remember that once you earn it, the work isn’t over. You now have a reputation in the eyes of others to maintain.