“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are” — John Wooden
If I was to always see myself through the eyes of others, or in other words see myself based on my reputation, then I would have a hard time knowing who the hell I was. Depending on who you ask, you could get completely different opinions of me.
Those who know me well could describe me based on my true character.
Most people however, would only be able to describe me based on my reputation. That is the beliefs or opinions generally held by others about me based on my past actions.
I’ve done a lot of things in the past I’m not proud of. Mostly moments from my early teens when I was hanging out with the “wrong crowd” as my parents would put it. A lot of what we did was harmless stuff really but there were times when I hurt people. And it’s the times I hurt others that always stick with me. If I could go back in time and change what I did, I would. But I can’t and there is no point dwelling in regret. In one way I can’t regret these moments either. They were necessary steps in developing me into the person I am today.
There was one big moment I had when I was fourteen that changed everything for me. A friend and I bought a car worth 200 euro from the scrapyard. We used to drive it around his fields for fun. Then one day we had a genius idea to take it out on the road. Nevermind not having licenses or insurance, the car’s brakes barely worked. After our little excursion I was driving the car back to my mates house. We just had one busy road to cross before we were home. As I pulled out to cross the road, I noticed a car coming towards me from my right. I slammed on the non-existent brakes and tried stick it in reverse to avoid him. Just as I thought I was about to miss him a huge dent appeared in the back door of his car. I watched in horror as the impact pushed him into the other lane towards an oncoming jeep holding a mother and her young kids. To this day I don’t know how he managed to swing back to his side of the road in time to avoid them.
My initial fear was phoning my father to tell him what happened — he didn’t even know we had a car to crash in the first place. I don’t think the old phones dealt very well with high decibel levels as I couldn’t make out a word he screamed at me down the phone. Once we were in the back of the garda car they decided to tear shreds out of us too. I’m not sure if they were trying to scare us or if they genuinely hated us. The man whose car we hit seemed the least angry of them all. But I’ll never forget what he said to me while we stood on the roadside waiting for the police to arrive. “My 8 year old son usually sits in that back seat where you hit the door. You’re lucky that he wasn’t with me today.”
For years I regretted that moment. But now I look back and I’m grateful for how lucky I was. How lucky I was that nobody was hurt. That it all unfolded the way it did. I still get emotional thinking about what could’ve been. That 8 year old boy or that mother with her kids. I don’t think I ever would have forgiven myself.
I almost felt what happened was God’s way of telling me to cop onto myself. From that moment on I decided I would no longer hang out with that same crowd. Deep down I knew that wasn’t the real me. I had dreams of doing great things with my life. That day I promised myself I would do great things in the future that I would be proud of.
Not everyone gets a chance to be on international news. I’ve been lucky enough to see what it’s like to be on both sides of it. I’ve been portrayed to the public as both a villian (San Francisco) and a hero (Pizza Sunday Club). And if you were to ask which one of these labels truly represents me, I would say neither.
The San Francisco story was bad. My face was plastered across The Irish Sun newspaper, along with proof I was arrested in the states and a headline accusing me of destroying a house. Not exactly something your mother puts up on the fridge. Plenty of online abuse followed and I deleted all my social media as a result but despite all the shit I dealt with at the time, I’m grateful for the experience. It made me realise how little shits I actually gave about these people’s opinions of me. I remember reading comments on reddit and laughing. Some called me a “posh Trinity wanker” and others said I was a “stupid potato eating fucker from Meath”. I’ll let you decide which is more accurate. I laughed because I realised not one of those people knew what actually happened and not one of them knew who I really was. They just assumed they did based on what they heard on the news.
The only thing I cared about was what my close friends and family thought, for they knew my character.
The same is true for the media we received with Pizza Sunday Club. Only this time most of the comments were positive. Martin and I were portrayed as “outstanding young men” and “an inspiration”. The same people who called me a disgrace to the country a year and a half earlier were now calling me an inspiration?
So what am I getting at here? I’m not saying that all insults or compliments from strangers are necessarily bad or good. Some compliments are nice to hear and can motivate you. And some insults can have some truth in them that you needed to hear.
What I am saying is that you cannot tie your identity to these opinions. Most people base these opinions off of the small part of you that they have seen. You are never as good or as bad as they say you are.
I believe we all have equal propensity to do bad things as we have to do good things. I can just as easily be selfish as I can be kind. I believe we all have both good and evil inside of us but the only thing that matters is what we choose to act on. Which side we choose to nurture.
So fuck your reputation. It’s none of your business and you have no power to control it. Focus on building your character. That is the values and beliefs which are true to you. It’s how you see the world and how you treat people in it. It is the person you wish yourself to become. Work on building yourself in private, away from the distractions of other’s opinions.