“If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of itself.”

-Dwight L. Moody

I have pneumonia and the doctor told me to rest. I thought this advice was a bit silly until I became winded while changing a light bulb. After that, I decided to rest aggressively. So, I decided to pass the time by binge-watching every episode of The Office—all nine seasons. I justified it by telling myself I would search for useful clips I could show in class or during academic presentations. After all, the lead character, Michael Scott, was a walking hostile work environment and his management philosophy was worse than his execution. I found a dozen or so good clips, and I distracted myself while I rested.

As I was watching, my wife and I were talking about what the actors were like in real life. I was reminded of a passage in Mindy Kaling’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Mindy played Kelly Kapoor on the office. She wrote:
People are always asking me what my castmates on The Office are really like: Is Steve Carell [Michael Scott] really as nice as he seems? Is John Krasinski as cool as Jim in real life. What about Rainn Wilson; is he as big an egomaniac as Dwight? The answers are: yes, yes, and much, much worse.[1]
Steve Carell, the bumbling, egoistic manager was actually a really nice guy. Mindy described how they tried to get Steve to badmouth others, and he simply would not do it. She wrote:
[This] was one of the most difficult seven-year challenges, but I was determined to do it. A circle of actors could be in a fun, excoriating conversation about, say, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and you’d shoot Steve an encouraging look that said, ‘Hey, come over here; We’ve made a space for you! We’re trashing Dominique Strauss-Kahn to build cast rapport!’ and the best he might offer is ‘Wow. If all they say about him is true, that is nuts,’ and then politely excuse himself to go to his trailer. That’s it. That’s all you’d get. Can you believe that? He just would not engage. That is some willpower there. I, on the other hand, hear someone briefly mentioning Rainn, and I’ll immediately launch into ‘Oh my god, Rainn’s so horrible.” But Carell is just one of those infuriating, classy Jane Austen guys.[2]
The first episode of The Office aired on March 24, 2005. Mindy published this review of her co-workers in 2011. When they began working together, they had no idea that Mindy would write about them in her memoir or what she would write. She just reported her observations.
In class, I call this the Washington Post test (It is sometimes called the New York Times or Wall Street Journal test). The concept is simple. If someone were to report your actions on the front page of the newspaper, would you be happy about what you read? If not, don’t do that thing.
What About You?
Would you be happy about what others would write about you in their memoir if they suddenly became successful? You cannot change the past, but you can write your future.
[1] Kaling, M. (2011). Is everyone hanging out without me (And other concerns). New York: Crown Publishing. (p. 104)
[2] Kaling, M. (2011). Is everyone hanging out without me (And other concerns). New York: Crown Publishing. (p. 117).