What to do when people judge you for your past

Bart asks: I have done things a long time ago, but I have changed! Years later people bring up these things and it makes me very angry. Here I am interviewing for an important job and people keep throwing my mistakes at me. Why do they do this, and how should I respond!

Hi Bart –


I certainly understand your frustration.  People are always mistrusting me because of something I did months ago, or maybe last night.  But hey, in dog days that’s a week, right? But it’s even worse for them to mistrust me because of something I did, or something they think  I did, years ago.


What I’m always trying to convince them of is to judge me the way I am now.  And that’s what you need to do.  You say you’ve changed, but do you show that?  If you used to bite people on the ankle all the time, do you lick their hands now, and only bite your chew toys (yes, that’s my story)?  Or maybe you used to have a drinking problem, and now you’re sober, or only drink a little.  Or maybe you used to do some really mean things to people, and now you’re far more moral than that.


Well, if so, how do you show it?  Do you act in a ladylike or gentlemanly way all the time now?  Do you work extra hard to be kind and calm?


Maybe that’s what you need to do.  And, although it doesn’t seem fair, maybe you need to go further than other people do, to show this, because of your past.


Have you ever watched an interview with a former boxer (the sport, not the dog)?  They tend to be the calmest, nicest people you’ll ever see.  They have to behave that way.  Everyone knows  they could knock the other person’s head clean off their shoulders with one punch.  So they act super­-nice instead.


Maybe you even need to act in a special way due to prejudice.  The last president of the United States, Barack Obama, was the first leader of that country ever to not be a white man.  Many Americans have a long-standing prejudice that black men are more angry, loud, and violent.  So he sold himself off as the calmest leader the country had ever known.  Not that any of his recent predecessors had been known for their loud rages; but still he had to outdo  them in that area.  And he did so, many would argue, to a fault.


The real test, of course, will come when you’re under severe stress.  Let’s say you’re accused of something very awful.  And when confronted about it, you explode in fury, or start drinking heavily, or act mean.  Even if you’re innocent of what they accused you of, your actions will expose you as, generally, the person they said you were.


Mr. Obama never fell into that trap.  Others do.


Just this past month, in the U.S., a judge who’d been nominated for the Supreme Court, the most powerful legal body in the country, was accused of having done some awful things to women when he was young and drunk.  None of his accusers had any actual proof that he’d done any of these things.  But his response – to cover up facts, to make other accusations, to be rude to questioners – all made him look completely guilty.  He still got the job, but will now always be looked down upon for the way he acted.


So my main advice is to just play it cool, Bart.  Whatever they’ve accused you of, just prove that you’re the opposite.  And all should work out fine.


Best of Luck!


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