I’m not sure how to start this post. This happens when thoughts stay in my head for too long without writing them down. Let’s just start with respect being a useful heuristic whom to devote attention to. To be worthy of respect, one requires characteristics that are respected by others. Strength (of character) and respectability are generally respected characteristics. If people don’t pay attention to you, you can’t do much. You can “borrow” attention by becoming an attention whore, but that generally causes a loss of respectability and hurts your reputation too much in the long run.
Respectability is hard to pin down exactly, because so many factors play into it, and there’s not one singular global standard for respectability anyway. But there are some aspects which should be nearly universal:
- Knowledge and skill
- Strength of character
- Being hard-working
- Putting your heart and soul into what you do
- Being empathetic
- Being respectful, and not arrogant, hateful, or abusive
- Being authentic, but polite
- Being perceived as successful
Most of those are attributes that good leaders should possess. Leaders require respectability more than anyone else. Otherwise they lose the respect of their (potential) followers.
Respectability and reputation are similar, but not entirely identical concepts. Respectability is the perception of being a person worth listening to. Reputation is the perception of being good or bad at something. Having some respectability is the requirement for being listened to by certain high ranking people. But it’s what you do with that attention that will eventually define your reputation. The value of respectability is that it makes it easier to get chances for gaining a good reputation. That’s not to say that already having a good reputation doesn’t also make it much easier to improve your reputation.
Having a university degree grants some degree of respectability, since getting it in the first place requires, and probably also builds, some of the aspects of respectability. Being a widely known successful entrepreneur is mostly superior to having a university degree, because the qualities required to be such a entrepreneur are overlapping quite a bit with the aspects of respectability. Of course, becoming a widely known successful entrepreneur is harder than getting a university degree. So, getting a university degree is a relatively easy way for gaining at least some respectability.
Can you get respectability in other ways? Yes, by truly excelling at your game, and then having a great portfolio, CV, connections, etc. Unfortunately, it’s much harder to gain respectability that way.
Perhaps the true value of university degrees is not so much that they signal ability, but that they signal some basic respectability. However, even with a university degree people can quickly lose their respectability by holding too outlandish views, or behaving like a douche bag.
But is respectability really a good indicator for future success? Well, it’s at least a socially self-fulfilling prophecy: Those who are seen as respectable get more chances to prove their worth and become seriously successful. Is it really the best indicator? Well, reputation might be better as indicator of future success than respectability, but reputation is both harder to get, and harder to display. Of course, it’s the best to have both great respectability and a great reputation.
Why is respectability a good heuristic for paying attention to someone? Well, respectability coincides with important leadership skills, so a person who is respectable is more likely to be a good leader, which would make it easier for them to get the support they need to excel at whatever they are trying to do. Persons who completely lack respectability will have a hard time to get any support whatsoever and are forced to do basically everything on their own. That’s usually such a great handicap, that it’s very unlikely that these individuals will be greatly successful with anything, even when they are extraordinarily skilled.
Even though it may seem suboptimal to waste effort and resources on improving your public respectability indicators, it does make a lot of sense to do exactly that. Better get used to wearing expensive business suits, and loving the experience.