This is something that needs to be taught in grade school these days. I have seen many careers created and destroyed because of this issue and many people still go through their lives blissfully ignorant to how this will affect them down the road.
What am I talking about? Your digital resume. “What is a digital resume?” you might ask. Well, think of it as everything you do online that can be viewed by others. This includes MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, forums, websites where you leave comments, etc. ANYthing of yours online that can be seen by others is your digital resume. It is you and how your employers, clients, and customers will perceive you whether it’s the “real” you or not…to them it’s the real you. Period.
I’ve unfortunately worked on projects in the past where people were either fired or not hired based on certain activities they were involved in online. How were they discovered? Simple…just searched for their name on various sites. You might think you can be sneaky and use a nickname, but you’re going to slip up somewhere and that nickname is going to be linked to your real name…then the trail starts. It’s up to you how that trail looks. I can’t stress it enough to be conscious of what you do online. You may not give a hoot what people think about you and you may make a living going through life with that attitude, but just be aware that you’re not “hiding behind a computer screen” lobbing out an “online lifestyle” that is “different” that your real life. To people that come in your life down the road…the two are the same.
On the other hand…use your “digital resume” as a tool to build a foundation for where you want to be down the road. Participate on sites, forums, groups, etc that parallel your plans. Leave a trail that shows how you got to where you are today. The people you communicate with and that see your activity may end up being the people who pay for that roof over your head and the food on your table. Don’t lose site of that.
Remember this…perception is reality…especially in the online world. What you do will be seen by someone important to you down the road. It’s up to you as to how they will react.