Someone once said “The world takes you at your own estimation”. Even though my kids are now in their thirties, I often quote that statement at them. I’m not 100% certain what it means, but the way I interpret it is that, broadly-speaking – and I’m not talking race, class or gender here – if you want to get on in life, it’s worth remembering that the world ‘works’ on two levels.
Firstly, a slightly ‘obvious’ point if you think about it, people tend to like spending time with others like themselves. Especially in business and commerce.
In other words, if you’re some important businessman or woman and you’re looking to hire a professional (e.g. an accountant lawyer or architect), next after wanting to hire the very best at what they do, you’d really like to hire someone that you get on with and trust. In fact, for some, the ‘getting on’ with someone they’re hiring is sometimes is as, or even more important, than whether that person is the best in their field. Who wants to employ A – the very best lawyer in the land (if as a human being he or she is a difficult, prickly, shit) – unless they really have to? You’d far rather hire B – the second or third best lawyer in the land, with whom you get on like a house on fire, as your regular ‘go to man’ … and then, if it’s really necessary because you need the very best opinion on something, ask him to go and consult with A on a particular subject.
Secondly – and this is the more important message of the two regarding ‘the world takes you at your own estimation’ – the way you present yourself is a key factor in influencing how people react to you. If you’re going for a job, or perhaps pitching for new business, or trying to do a bit of ‘networking’, the individual who looks as though they are – or aspire to be – successful will tend to do better than that he or she that looks down on their luck, dresses shabbily and/or gives the impression that they don’t care about their appearance.
I once had a pal – let’s call him Frank – who went to Stowe and gained the very barest of academic qualifications. Despite this, in his early twenties he became a highly successful salesman for a very large photocopying company. I once asked him why and he was honest enough to say that – although he was good at what he did – he was actually technically no better than many of his fellow salesmen. It was all down to chance.
He explained that most of his colleagues were East End trader types deployed on making pitches to small businesses. However, whenever the company had an opportunity to approach say the chairman of a massive publicly-quoted company, by preference they always sent along Frank – a public schoolboy from a well-to-do background who habitually visited Henley, Ascot, Wimbledon and Cowdray Park [I’m probably exaggerating here to make my point] – i.e. just the sort of social sporting events that such a chairman might attend, because (hopefully) he’d have lots in common with them … and therefore more easily ‘get on the same wavelength’. The result? Two years in a row, Frank won his employer’s prize for best salesman of the year – he was selling tens of photocopiers at a time, compared to his colleague’s one or two. A year or so after that he left the company and went on to form his own, very successful, outfit.
My point to my kids was that – if they were ambitious and wanted to get on – they should bear in mind that how they presented themselves to the world would count. Ultimately it was up to them, of course, but – e.g. if they presented themselves as scruffy or uncaring about their appearance; or as negative, petulant, offhand and difficult; or as someone who was uncomfortable at a classy dining table, or lacking in social manners – (even if they didn’t know it) it might tell against them.
Good advice, don’t you think?
Not that I’ve always taken it in my own life. That’s one of life’s peculiarities – sometimes the best advice comes from people who didn’t follow it themselves.
I have absolutely no fashion sense whatsoever. I remember that even at my boarding prep school in the depths of east Sussex in the early 1960s, where a master once described me in front of the class as making Richmal Crompton’s Just William character look like a choirboy, I was forever gaining demerit marks for having my socks rolled down, my shirt half hanging out and my tie skewed sideways.
If I think about it, I’ve never really been concerned about impressing people – which, as some might point out, is probably half the reason I was never that successful.
Still, I suppose you cannot fight nature. The fashionistas sometimes discuss whether there’s an age beyond which men should no longer wear jeans, e.g. fifty or sixty. Left to my own devices, in private, by choice I’ve been wearing jeans most days ever since I was about ten – and I’m now in my mid-60s.
“The world takes you at your own estimation”. Or does it? I had an instance a few days ago when a brother’s family came for lunch. I turned out in sports shorts and singlet and was the subject of a good deal of ridicule of the “Mutton dressed as lamb” variety.
About a week beforehand, I’d been to a sports store and bought myself what I suppose was a ‘modern’ style pair of sports shorts, a T-shirt and a vest (or singlet).
Obviously – in the right light and bathroom mirror, when posing from my better side – I suppose I see myself as being able to pass for a reasonably-healthy athlete in his late thirties – well okay then, early forties.
It was pointed out to me that, at my age, wearing a pair of modern sports shorts and a tight-fitting singlet covered in garish semi-fluorescent (yellow and pink) flashes was not a good look. Initially, even when two ladies present agreed that I looked ‘gay’, I laughed it off.
Later, however, I got to thinking that maybe they were on to something. I was shown a range of group photographs taken on the terrace that day in which everyone looked exactly as I know them to be, save for the fact that on the end of the line was some sort of interloper – a fat, white-haired, balding Caucasian in his eighties.
It was me.