Why Defending Your Reputation Is a Waste of Time

Last year, I caught hell for wearing shorts while speaking at a conference.  Some of the attendees felt that I couldn’t be taken seriously because I wasn’t wearing the preferred garb of “those who are to be believed” — e.g., a blazer and khakis.

To them, I said (and still say) this: thank you, and please don’t hire me.  Because working for you would be an exercise in banging my head against the wall of your outdated ideas about propriety, and I’m not interested in that.  I’d rather work with someone who cares about the things I think matter, while I’m sure you’d rather hire someone who cares about the things you think matter.

In short, we’re not compatible, so let’s not waste each others’ time.

This week, a similar thing happened on the national stage — and, as always, the upstarts are the ones having to defend their ideals from the dinosaurs.

A few days ago, the “Bump a Smoke” app went viral (read: Gawker wrote about it), after which tobacco giant Philip Morris clarified that the Marlboro-themed app was not theirs.  This flushed out the fake app’s actual creators, a pair of students at Miami Ad School Brooklyn named Jennine Punzone and Manasvi Abrol, who responded to Philip Morris‘s disregard for their portfolio project with barbed sarcasm.

This is when the story gets amusing to me.

Because this is when commenters on the story start calling Punzone and Abrol “immature,” and claiming that they’d never hire them, simply because they had the temerity to speak back to their betters — which, in this case, is big tobacco.

Let’s be clear: when your portfolio project gets mistaken for a branded promotion by a media powerhouse, you’re already worth hiring.

And when your response to that brand’s dismissal is worded to generate maximum additional buzz and attention on your own work and personality, you’ve just exhibited more entrepreneurial instinct and PR mastery than the spineless drones who live in fear of their clients could ever invent on their own.

In fact, what Punzone and Abrol have done here is served notice to potential employers (and clients) who don’t share their perspective that these dinosaurs shouldn’t waste their time with interviews that are sure to go nowhere and jobs that are guaranteed to suck the joy out of the creative experience they obviously love.

And this, ultimately, is why you should never worry about your reputation.

Haters Gon’ Hate

No matter what you say or do, you will always find people who:

  • agree
  • disagree
  • don’t care

None of this prevents you from having a career, friends, family and a fulfilling life.  It just helps you determine who you’re more likely to find that fulfillment with.

Yesterday, I watched King of Kong, a documentary that depicts one of the world’s greatest Donkey Kong players as a self-deluded and scheming egomaniac.  Does this mean he lives alone in a hole?  On the contrary; he’s one of the most revered arcade gamers of all-time, mostly because the people he surrounds himself with have even lower self-esteem than he does.  Thus, by default, he’s become their god.

Worrying about whether or not people like you is a waste of time.  If you’re espousing other people’s values and not your own, simply because you want to seem like someone you’re not, you’re preventing yourself from finding the people (and the work) you’d rather be doing in the first place.

Philip Morris doesn’t want the Bump a Smoke app?  Fair enough.

But not hiring Punzone and Abrol because they’re “immature”?

Thank you.  Because they deserve better.

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  • http://productivityjunkies.com Darin Persinger

    I don’t quite get the Billy Mitchell reference. Could you expand on it?nAre you saying, its ok to be a Dbag as long as someone, anyone likes you?

  • http://productivityjunkies.com Darin Persinger

    I don’t quite get the Billy Mitchell reference. Could you expand on it?nAre you saying, its ok to be a Dbag as long as someone, anyone likes you?

  • http://raulcolon.net Raul Colon

    Interesting post. Yesterday someone approached me so I could go and start the conversation with a PR Agency full of dinosaurs who are not in line with my way of thinking.u00a0nnThe type that would throw a fit if I did not go to a business meeting in a suit. The person was trying to make me change my ways so I could work with them because they needed someone with my expertise.u00a0nnI gladly rejected because I don’t want to work with people who don’t have the same interests as me. u00a0Your example of how to search for people with your interests is a great one.u00a0nnI believe in finding common interests with everyone but once someone focuses on only one difference like the fact that you where wearing shorts I try to distance myself from them very quickly.u00a0nn

  • http://twitter.com/joehall Joe Hall

    Worrying about your reputation isn’t, “espousing other peopleu2019s values and not your own”, but rather the exact opposite. nnWearing long pants sucks, but it some times gets you in the door to speak your mind, so that next time you can wear your freaking bathing suit if you want. Otherwise you are just missing out on potentially cool people and ideas, just because you wanted to be yourself. Just my 2 cents.

  • http://twitter.com/joehall Joe Hall

    Worrying about your reputation isn’t, “espousing other peopleu2019s values and not your own”, but rather the exact opposite. nnWearing long pants sucks, but it some times gets you in the door to speak your mind, so that next time you can wear your freaking bathing suit if you want. Otherwise you are just missing out on potentially cool people and ideas, just because you wanted to be yourself. Just my 2 cents.

  • http://justinkownacki.com/ Justin Kownacki

    Could be. But, by that rationale, when would I be “allowed” to be myself?rnOnce I pass someone else’s test? Thanks, but no thanks. I prefer to dornthings my way from the outset and let the people who see value in it save arnresearch step by skipping past the sniff test.rnrnJustin KownackirnCreator & Producer, “The Baristas”rnhttp://thebaristas.comrn412-628-4231

  • http://justinkownacki.com/ Justin Kownacki

    No, though he might disagree. What I’m saying is, whether or not you’re arndouchebag is irrelevant because someone will always like you regardless.rnYou’d presumably have *better* relationships if “being yourself” coincidedrnwith being a pleasurable person, but I’d cite Mitchell as an example ofrnsomeone who’s successful while living on the outside of normal (even if yournand I might think his is the wrong side).rnrnJustin KownackirnCreator & Producer, “The Baristas”rnhttp://thebaristas.comrn412-628-4231

  • http://www.pamelahazelton.com Pamela Hazelton

    Spot on.nnAs for the pants, I opt to dress professionally because I believe it helps me be taken more seriously. Am I offended by others who don’t wear – ahem – pants? Not at all. Some are like you – creative, thinking outside the box – while others are just childish or are simply slobs. Either way, it’s the conversation that tells me whether or not I want to work with someone…

  • http://www.pamelahazelton.com Pamela Hazelton

    Oh, he’d probably agree… But your point is accurate. His “followers” are loyal, no matter what.

  • http://twitter.com/annettesayswhat annette

    Love this!u00a0nnA client who understood a “challenge” I was going through with another client offered some words of wisdom which I recite in my head daily. Here is my gift to you, via him, for when your time of need comes — and it will.nn”Don’t buy a dog if you’re just going to do the barking yourself.”nnYou’re welcome.

  • http://twitter.com/annettesayswhat annette

    Love this!u00a0nnA client who understood a “challenge” I was going through with another client offered some words of wisdom which I recite in my head daily. Here is my gift to you, via him, for when your time of need comes — and it will.nn”Don’t buy a dog if you’re just going to do the barking yourself.”nnYou’re welcome.

  • http://www.dayngrzone.com/ Dayngr

    Jennine Punzoneu00a0andu00a0Manasvi Abrol’s response was pure genius. You’re right, they’ve displayed creativity across the board and they’ll probably have offers pouring in that will be far more worthy than anything big tobacco would put on the table.u00a0

  • http://justinkownacki.com/ Justin Kownacki

    We may be in the market for a second dog soon. I’ll have to startrnanti-barking to make up for the two of them…rnrnJustin KownackirnCreator & Producer, “The Baristas”rnhttp://thebaristas.comrn412-628-4231

  • Lovedesign

    Love your blog! Your response to the kids being immature is spot on!nSad that people mistake fearless, expressive individuals to be immature. May God bless those smart ones with a long and boring ‘mature’ life!nnu00a0Wish I had this kind of reaction to my projects when i was in ad school!! What a way to put yourself on the world map. Ad people from all over the globe are following this..as it happens in many countries, we’re restricted and restrained from expressing ourselves, for the fear of losing clients, pissing off our bosses or just appearing to be too brash. If advertising professionals are going to beahve like scared, speculative, calculative investment bankers, that would be the death of this crazy, fun ad world!!! nnGreat going Jenine, Manasvi and Justin!

  • http://higheredcareercoach.com/ Sean Cook

    Nice post. Loved it. I was jsut talking today on my blogtalkradio podcast about how people often downplay their answers in job interviews, and why it misses the mark. The episode was about supervision and how to talk about your style, but I think that any stylistic issue can be explored in a similar way. You do yourself a disservice if you aren’t yourself, if you aren’t comfortable with your style or can’t objectively describe it. So be yourself and be real with yourself. As long as you are, everyone else can blow in the wind. Good for these two.

  • http://raxraxrax.com Rax Lakhani

    Justin – there’s not a single line of your post that I disagree with! You can’t please all of the people all of the time and to even attempt to do so could be a massive waste of energy and time. nn

  • Priscilla Spencer

    This post struck a chord for me, as it applies to one’s personal life as well as business interaction.u00a0 I’m 26, and I recently registered for Match.com.u00a0 My mom urged me to post only the most lovely, elegant photos of myself, but I insisted upon also posting a few photos of myself in cosplay, in addition to the aforementioned elegant shots.u00a0 I still looked cute, but it gave potential suitors a better impression of my personality and interests.u00a0 nnMy mom worried that the cosplay pictures might turn some guys away, and I argued that the dating field is so huge that it was in my best interests to post something divisive in my profile to winnow out the incompatible.u00a0 If a guy doesn’t want to date me because I’m a cosplayer, I don’t want to date him.u00a0 I want to attract the kind of guys with complementary mindsets.u00a0 It’s not like they wouldn’t find out eventually.u00a0 nnIf the bridge can only take you to places you never want to go, it’s okay to burn it.u00a0 Be true to yourself, and be brilliant at what you do.u00a0 You’ll find the right people.

  • http://justinkownacki.com/ Justin Kownacki

    And, by the same token, guys who already dig cosplay are more likely to digrnyou for proudly flying your geek flag rather than hiding that “revelation”rnfor later — in which case they might never have thought to contact you inrnthe first place. Here’s to authenticity.rnrnJustin KownackirnCreator & Producer, “The Baristas”rnhttp://thebaristas.comrn412-628-4231

  • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

    Hi Justin,nnI agree with you to a point. If you know right off the bat that you’re not going to be able to work effectively with a company, you should probably stop while you’re ahead. nnBut…(because everyone has a big but)…nnThe tone of this post has made me realize that something has been bothering me about Social Media lately. I think that flippant, rude, crass behavior is over-romanticized in the online world. I often hear things like, “Hey, I effin cuss because that’s who I effin am! If you don’t like it then *expletive expletive expletive*.” And that’s okay, I guess, but is that who *everybody* is? nnI worry that folks read posts like this and miss the point. What they will garner is, “OK, it’s okay for me to be disrespectful of potential clients because if they don’t see how awesome I am, they’re just dumb.” That is not the point, but it seems to be a close cousin to this line of thinking that seems to be overtaking the online world.nnIt’s still okay to be professional, right? I mean, do I really care if you wear shorts or your pajama pants when you present at a conference? No. But could I help but wonder about your choice of wardrobe? Also no. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, which is sad for a 30-something, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a little decorum.nu00a0

  • http://justinkownacki.com/ Justin Kownacki

    Agreed. But just like my wardrobe (or the Bump a Smoke app) is anrnexcuse for some people to write me (or the app’s designers) off, werncan also use that same dismissal as our own shorthand to identifyrnpotential high- and low-friction opportunities. In a high-speedrnworld, all sides are always looking for excuses to waste less time,rnand these shorthand triggers (wardrobe, language, style, etc., and thernresponse from others to those stimuli) are a great way to write arnperson or a whole company off at first sight.rnrnNow, how many times is that first impression going to be wrong?rnrnAnd, how often do we have time (or interest, or opportunities) to seernif our first impressions were wrong?rnrnIf we have the luxury of gathering information about a person or arncompany over time, we may grow to appreciate them more as we come tornunderstand their complexities. But those first impressions are rarelyrn*entirely* wrong, because those first impressions are who wernconsciously (or subconsciously) are choosing to be.rnrnMeanwhile, here’s a secret about acting like an asshole in public: itrnlimits your opportunities. There’s a difference between beingrndifferent, or being “yourself,” and being a complete asshole.rnDifferent doesn’t necessarily mean obstinate. And if the only kindsrnof people you’re attracting to you are fellow assholes, odds are, yourndon’t have much to work with.

  • http://www.margieclayman.com Marjorie Clayman

    Hi Justin,nnWell stated. I guess in this fast-paced world it is harder to spend more time getting to know people. It’s a sad irony – Social Media allows us in some ways to get to know people without any of those “blink” judgments, but then the new time constraints may force judgment even more.nnHrm. What a bummer. :)

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  • http://www.idoinspire.com Jody Urquhart

    I have had comments about wearing skirts too short, high heels too high. From people who can’t wear skirts I think

  • http://justinkownacki.com/ Justin Kownacki

    I don’t wear skirts, so I reserve judgment. And heels? Forget it.rnEspecially on cobblestones…

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  • http://twitter.com/ronnqvist Simon Ru00f6nnqvist

    I agree, but the title taken out of context could be very misunderstood. Reputation matters when it comes to taking responsibility and doing your job well, which of course doesn’t have anything to do with dress-code or anything like that. I live in a town of 20 000 people and do web development with mostly local customers, here reputation is *very* important.

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