The Guy in the Glass

One of my favorite poems is “The Guy in the Glass,” which is about integrity and honesty to oneself. I first encountered it 20 years ago. It is usually mistitled as “The Man in the Glass” and is often inaccurately credited to the enormously prolific author Anonymous. The true author of the poem is Dale Wimbrow (1895-1954), who wrote it in 1934. Here it is:

When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.

For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.

He’s the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear up to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.

* The word pelf in the first line means “wealth.” The word self is often incorrectly substituted.

I have a copy of this poem posted in my office, as a reminder to myself to live consciously instead of falling into the trap of living to fulfill other people’s goals at the expense of my mission. Every time I read it, I gain a greater sense of clarity, a feeling of certainty about what I need to focus on next.

I recommend you follow the instructions in the 3rd and 4th lines of the poem literally, even if just for a couple minutes. Look yourself in the eye and listen to your thoughts. Is the guy in the glass your friend?