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Is Being Attractive a Career Asset or Liability?

I don’t recall exactly how many girls turned me down when I asked them to the senior prom, but there were a few. Even though that was 25 years ago, I still remember how much I wished I was one of “the beautiful people”. Today, I’m glad I wasn’t. When I finally made it to the major leagues of my industry, two things immediately struck me. The first was how accepting everyone was. People were amazingly supportive and oddly non-competitive.

I later realized this came from their sense of security and accomplishment, since successful people don’t feel threatened by others who succeed. The second thing was that most of the powerful and famous people I met looked like ordinary average individuals, even though some of them get more for a one hour speech than many people pay for a house. This made me wonder how much one’s looks really impacts career success. Being attractive can certainly help in the short term. Television news magazines such as 20/20 have conducted tests which confirm that society gives special consideration to attractive people.

However, being so attractive that one draws excessive attention to him or herself can impede long term career success. Beauty can become the temporary crutch that some people try to keep leaning on long after it has been taken away. While attractive people can skate by on looks for a while, eventually beauty fades. They may then struggle when it’s gone and they can no longer charm people with their million dollar smile. Meanwhile, their average looking counterparts start to excel in their careers because their greatest assets –their job skills– are increasing. This success principle of “what matters most is what’s on the inside” isn’t limited to work. It also applies to personal relationships. While the newest glamour couple here in my hometown of Nashville is the equally attractive Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, not every pretty woman goes for the handsome leading man look. Just look at Lyle Lovett, who married Julia Roberts in 1993, and Billy Bob Thornton, who married Angelina Jolie in 2000. Both Thornton and Lovett readily admit they don’t have Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise looks.

The one thing they needed to get these beautiful women to say yes was the same thing that made their careers so successful – confidence. So what’s the moral of this story? If you happen to be an ordinary average looking individual who’s competing against a job applicant or coworker who has drop dead gorgeous looks, don’t assume they have an advantage. It could turn out that looking average helps you become more than average in your career.


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