Okay, here’s your assignment for the new year.
Get up and go to the bathroom.
No, wait, let me clarify that. Go into your bathroom. But not right now. Finish reading this article first, then go into the bathroom.
When you get there, stand in front of the mirror and get comfortable for a moment. Now, spin around and turn your back toward the mirror. Relax and count to 20 – by ones, no cheating – then quickly turn back around toward the mirror. Take a good, long gander at that person standing there before you.
See that face? That’s what Dr. Tommy Karam calls your “default face.” That’s the face everybody gets the pleasure of looking at when you’re walking down the street or around your house or through your office or in the mall.
So, what do you think? Like it? Or not?
Dr. Karam is a professor at LSU’s Ourso School of Business. One of his jobs is to work with athletes on improving their public image, burnishing their communication skills, raising their stock should they go on to a professional sports career. To use trendy psychobabble jargon, he’s there to help them improve their “personal brand.”
Karam occasionally speaks to communicators and business leaders around the Baton Rouge community about the importance of increasing one’s “likability quotient.” Everybody wants to be liked, so when Karam speaks, people usually listen. He’s the E.F. Hutton of the academic world.
Well, I’m not sure if that’s actually true in regard to some of the ivory-tower, sandal-wearing, shaggy-haired, slack-jawed, half-asleep, perhaps hung-over college students inhabiting those huge lecture halls, but for us real-world drones who may be lacking in the likability department, it’s a compelling premise.
LSU coach Les Miles must be listening because even though he seems to be lost in the weeds when he speaks and often requires an independent interpreter to decipher the gibberish he’s uttering, and even though he wears his hat too high and is known to drop the occasional expletive, and even though he seems to consistently extract the least amount of productivity from the top-notch talent at his disposal, everybody likes Les.
In his presentation, Karam reveals not only the reasons why it’s important to improve your likability – in Miles’ case there are over 5 million reasons a year for him to be Mr. Congeniality – but he also offers ideas about how to be more approachable and treat those you encounter in a more convivial manner.
Part of the solution requires working on your default face, getting rid of that scowl or that vacuous brook trout look and projecting a more pleasing visage.
For me, that’s been quite a task. The first time I really focused on my default face, it was pretty frightening. What was I so dang mad about? I feel like I walk around in a pretty positive state of mind, grateful to be alive and still on the sunny side of the dirt.
But my mug made it appear I just caught a whiff of a dozen rotten eggs or just got through sucking on a lemon or just got told the recent Senate election was nullified due to a technical error and they’re going to have to do the entire campaign all over again. Zounds!
And what the heck happened to that spunky, handsome, confident, dark-haired young hotshot I expected to see when I turned around toward that mirror? My default face looked more like an awful default mess: tired, droopy, ancient, scruffy, scarred, creased, splotches of gray everywhere, blemishes and age spots dotting my saggy, gunny sack jowls like an astrological constellation. Ugh! Who wants to look at that?
Beyond comprehensive cosmetic surgery, I’m not sure what could be done about improving the aesthetic appeal of my default face. Even walking around with a big silly grin doesn’t seem to help much in my case – it’s like the lipstick-on-a-pig concept at work. Besides, people just wonder what you’re up to when you do that, or they think you may be the evil twin of Gary Busey.
I’m afraid my personal brand is well beyond repair. To be sure, the Gibson brand – the journalist, not the guitar company – was pretty solid about 25 years ago, back when I had a lot to prove and all the energy and time in the world to prove it. But somewhere along the way my personal brand became more like the Edsel, or maybe the Corvair – unappealing on any level.
After all, to have a really hip, successful brand these days requires 1) a lot of selfies, 2) a lot of Photoshopping, and 3) selling one’s soul – and every last shred of dignity and personal privacy – at the altar of social media. Otherwise known as Satan’s putrid playground.
If I have to post every insignificant development that takes place in my life during a typical day to a social network that doesn’t really care that much, or spend every waking hour getting inundated with photos of Kim Kardashian’s ample caboose, I think I’ll kindly settle for a sub-standard personal brand.
Fortunately, the people within my family, my work relationships and my real in-the-flesh social circle accept my personal brand as it stands, flaws and all. At least that’s what they tell me.
And while my default face might be a lost cause, I can always use more work on my default tone of voice, my default kindness, my default patience, my default composure, my default fortitude, my default forgiveness, my default attitude and my default character.
And finally, speaking of Kim K., it also seems like a waste of effort to work on my default face at the same time another part of the anatomy has been getting so much attention: rear ends. Maybe you didn’t catch it, but 2014 was dubbed the “Year of the Booty” as backsides – each one more expansive than the one before – seemed to be flapping and flashing everywhere.
That’s one reason I’m glad 2014 is gone. Good riddance.