Giving Them What They Want Without Losing Who You Are

Oct 14, 2004 |John Thomas

Makeover's are all the rage. But trying to be someone you're not is just plain unlivable.

Apprentice-mania has swept my small circle of friends (triangle, really, there are only three of us). I’ll admit the first few times my buddies worked into conversation The Donald’s famous cobra-like wrist pop and snapped, “You’re fired,” it was pretty funny stuff. But the road from grin to groan is often a short one. See: buh-bye and whussaaaaaaap?!

One guy I know, we’ll call him Eric, even submitted a video application to try out for the show. He showed it to me, and I was blown away. It was professionally produced and well scripted. It perfectly communicated Eric’s great sense of humor, his community and church involvement, his sincere heart and his professional acumen.

“This is amazing!” I said. “You’re a shoo-in!”

“They already told me I didn’t make it,” Eric said with disappointment. “But I’m thinking about changes I’ll make for my next video. I think they’re looking for a more cut-throat, competitive kind of person, so next time I’ll give them more what they’re looking for.”

At the time Eric’s response didn’t strike me as unusual. He’s an achiever, and when he sets his mind to accomplish something he’s pretty successful. So his decision to step back, re-focus and make another run at it seemed fairly typical. But his last comment has continued to echo in my mind, “I’ll give them more of what they’re looking for.

I guess that isn’t always such a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with “putting our best foot forward” when we want to make a good impression.

When I was courting my wife I was on my best behavior, and it probably wasn’t until we were married that she saw the true me, un-shaved face and un-brushed teeth, unable to function until sufficient amounts of coffee had been administered.

(One guy told me that when he first got married, every morning he would slip out from under the covers, sneak into the bathroom and brush his teeth, then slip back under the covers ready to greet his wife with a fresh kiss. I assume his wife still believes him to be the one human whose morning breath is minty fresh and kills germs on contact.)

Much of “giving them more of what they want” is just good salesmanship — presenting the product in the best possible light so all of its attributes are easily seen. Where we get into trouble is when we step across the line of “good lighting” into the area of false advertising.

A couple of years ago my wife and I moved to a new city, and I was hunting for a job. In a rare turn of events, someone out-of-the-blue called me and asked me to come interview for a specific position that this locally well-known organization was trying to fill. I hadn’t heard about the position until then, so I was intrigued to say the least. It’s hard enough to get an interview when I call them, so when they call me I’m all over it.

This position was attractive for several reasons: First, the salary would be more than what I’d ever been paid; second, the organization has some prestige and third, see reason #1. There was one tiny, little problem though: even before the interview I knew this job was not a good fit for me, and I wasn’t a good fit for it.

I knew that I didn’t have the background and the skills necessary to do justice to the position. It was simply out of my field of expertise. Additionally, I had no passion for the purpose of this position. The work itself seemed boring and unattractive to me.

Now, in defense of the prospective employer, they had seen my resume. They had heard about me and knew my background and skills. I guess they thought whatever I lacked I could learn, because they pursued me. As for me, all I knew was that the money sounded pretty good, especially since my current income tax bracket was in the zero to nothing category. So, yes, I interviewed for the job.

I knew that to get the job I had to not only put my best foot forward, but also present myself in such a way that really wasn’t me. I couldn’t lie about my skills, experience and education. No, what I had to do was squeeze myself into someone else’s “skin.” I had to seem interested in and comfortable with something in which I really had only one interest. But “The money” would not have been a good answer to “John, why do you want to work for us?”

It’s hard to describe how obvious it was during the interview what a huge mistake it would have been for me and for the organization if I were to get the job. I did my very best to “give them what they wanted,” or at least what I thought they wanted. But the longer we talked, the more obvious it became — at least to me — that what they wanted was not who I was. In fact, the more we talked the more we realized that there were fundamental philosophical differences between me and the organization about issues on which I would have been the project leader.

I was kicking myself for wasting everyone’s time, but the more serious offense was trying to be something that — somebody who — I wasn’t. I knew it, and they knew it. To keep them from having to call me later and say, “thanks, but no thanks,” I respectfully withdrew my application and thanked them for their time and consideration (and for the baseball cap with the cool company logo that I scored).

My point in re-living this awkward chapter is this: I tried to “give them what they wanted,” and in the process had to become someone I wasn’t. In the end I failed miserably. I didn’t compromise any obvious moral codes, and I managed to survive the situation with my integrity intact, but I tried making myself fit into skin that wasn’t mine, and that was a mistake.

Becoming comfortable with who we are — with who God made us to be — is a challenging task, but the resulting liberation is invaluable. I like the way Eugene Peterson translates Romans 12:2 in The Message translation:

Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

God makes it clear: He looks at the heart. When God was choosing a leader for Israel, the prophet Samuel was leaning toward men who “looked” the part, like Eliab, who was apparently tall and handsome with minty fresh breath. But the Lord tells Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7:

Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Here’s what I should be asking: Who am I at the core of my heart; am I trying to deny that for any reason? Is my “window dressing” an attempt to disguise who I really am or is it just a part of making a good presentation? If the integrity of my heart isn’t compromised then I’ve met the most important standard.

So go ahead and “give them what they want,” as long as you start by giving God what He wants — a pure heart. Resist the temptation to try to fit the mold — the culture around you — and instead embrace the person God made you to be, trusting that He knows what He’s doing. The earlier we learn this lesson, the more disappointment and frustration we’ll avoid down the road, whether with a prospective employer, a love interest, or yes, even the Donald.

Copyright 2004 John Thomas. All rights reserved.

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