Have you ever played that staple party game, “Would you rather…?”

It’s a milder version of “Truth or Dare!” A question is posed and you have to choose between two sensational experiences, responses, or choices and then explain yourself.

  • “Would you rather eat a bowl of earthworms or drink a cold glass of goat blood?”
  • “Would you rather take an all-expense paid trip to Europe for 30 days or have 5 days filled with earth shattering joy?”
  • “Would you rather have first-dibs or have the last laugh?”

The game reveals a lot about a person’s values, priorities, fears, desires – and character.

I recently found myself in a mentoring conversation where the following paradoxical question came up.

“Would you rather impress people or impact their lives?”



The guy who I was speaking with was heading off to college – a new life with new experiences and new people.

He had always defined himself by what he did or the roles he held (student, baseball player, athlete, punk, lady’s man, etc.). To this point in his life, he was a star athlete but a knee injury robbed him of his first year of play in college. He had always relied on his performance, athleticism and charm to impress people. Now that two of those cards – performance and athleticism – were out of play, he was experiencing a minor crisis.

So I asked the question, “Would you rather impress people or impact them?”

It is a question that we all need to ask ourselves.

At first, the answer doesn’t seem to require a lot of thought: we would rather impact people for a lifetime. Yet every message we receive from the time we are born until the time we die is that being impressive supersedes making an impact. It is so ingrained in us that we subconsciously operate in that mode. We hear it all the time:

  • “Wow, you have quite an impressive resume!”
  • “You were the recipient of that prestigious scholarship? That’s very impressive!”
  • “Your talent is amazing, I’m very impressed!”
  • “You’re very engaging, that leaves quite an impression on people.”

The list can go on.

You get to choose!

We have been hard-wired to leave an impression. We adhere to the adage that first impressions define us. Did you know that Macy’s Department Store even carries a line of baby clothes called “First Impressions” (you want your toddler to be dressed so fashionably that she leaves a brilliant first impression)? This reinforces the notion that impression trumps impact. No wonder we are so intent impressing others.

If you stop to examine the science of impressing others, you will conclude that impression lies in external appearances and in what you DO.

We dress to impress; acquire accolades to impress; strive to achieve the status of “best-in-class” to impress, and; for many, work to keep the people we love impressed because we believe that they will continue to love us (or love us more) if we leave an impression on them.

This line of logic keeps us performing like trained monkeys.

We have been bought into a lie that says, “Who we are is defined by what we do.” As such, we need to keep all our ‘plates spinning’ so that others are impressed. Conversely, we believe that if we screw-up then we ARE a screw-up because the things we do – including our mistakes – define us.

However, we can correct the trajectory and begin to see that who we ARE (being or character) informs what we do. As a result, we can choose the character that we want to live into. 

Then, we will begin impacting others.

Correct the trajectory by asking the right questions.

One of the first conversations I have with any guy seeking to be mentored focuses on the trajectory just described. Examples include,

  • “How do you think you will be remembered?”
  • “What qualities would people ascribe to you now?”
  • “How do you want to be known?”

These questions are questions of impact. At the end of my life I hope people will say that I was a compassionate, good, wise and free man. I hope they don’t say, “He was well educated because he had many degrees,” or “He was a really interesting teacher,” or “He wrote many provocative books.”

While those things may be impressive, they are fleeting and will all burn in eternity.

Determine who you are going to be.

If you want to impact people you need to know who you are (or determine who you will be). So try this: complete the sentence using only one word:

“I am ___________.”

You can only complete it with a character trait (or a sensationally inflated adjective): I am amazing. I am compassionate. I am patient. I am insightful. You get the point. Note that it is not possible to complete the phrase with a role or action using only one word.

Now think about the trait that you used. Do you want that to be the quality people associate with you?

In my novel, The Crest, four young men are being challenged to think through this same exercise by their mentor. One of the guys says, “I am funny” (to which his buddies reply “not so much”). But the mentor affirms “funny” as being a character trait. He then asks, “Is that how you want to be remembered throughout your life?”

The protégée ponders the thought and comes to the conclusion that, while it’s not bad to be known for having a good sense of humor, there are more impacting character virtues that one can live into. The mentor challenges each guy to choose to live into the trait for which he wants to be known.

Character impacts others!

In our mentoring seminars, Jer and I stress that regardless of your past, age, circumstance, etc. you can still become the person you want to be!

We also stress that there are four extremely impacting character traits: compassion, goodness, wisdom and freedom.

  • Compassion is a force with which to be reckoned. There is nothing more powerful than a loving spirit.
  • Goodness is a light that shines thru incredible darkness. It is the character trait that makes someone seek to reconcile injustice, pain and suffering.
  • Wisdom is the ability to see into things that which others cannot. It brings a hopeful perspective and insight when conventional avenues are exhausted.
  • Freedom is the trait that comes from a reckless abandon of everything to hold on to God. It is the result of being unfettered by worry, fear, opinions, evil, hopelessness, etc.

When other people encounter a person who lives into these traits they are inevitably transformed, changed, and impacted.

Remind yourself daily that who you are informs what you do.

Then choose to live out who you are. If you do this, the people you encounter in the minutia of daily life will be profoundly impacted regardless of whether or not they are impressed.

Leave a Comment: What 3 character qualities would your best friend or spouse ascribe to you? Is that an accurate assessment of who you are?

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