You Either Have Integrity Or You Don’t

I loved my job as operations manager for a small investment management firm. Numbers had always been a second language to me, and the work required me to be logical, methodical, and organized—useful traits which continue to serve me well.

Four years after my high school friend, Neil, had hired me, however, my calling came calling. I gradually became consumed with the idea of writing for a living. It wasn’t long before the work I was being paid to do no longer held my interest. I didn’t have a computer at home so I stayed after work to type my magazine articles and greeting card ideas on my work computer, an arrangement which Neil had approved.

Soon, however, my personal use of my work computer began spilling over into my work day. I rationalized that this was okay because it was only for five minutes here and there and I was still getting all of my work done. I was so absorbed in my new passion, however, that my occasional indiscretions began increasing in frequency and length.

One day, as I was typing up a batch of greeting card ideas, Neil opened the closed door to my office, shut it behind him, and gently confronted me. Deeply embarrassed, I apologized; yet I had the temerity to ask if I could finish what I was typing so I could meet a deadline.

I’d like to report that Neil’s rebuke slapped some sense into me and prompted me to see the error of my ways, but that would be only partially true. I continued taking occasional liberties whenever my misplaced sense of entitlement deemed it necessary. Yes, I was more careful about stepping over the line but only because I had to, not because I felt compelled to do what was right.

Some years later, at a small informal gathering of fellow writers, a friend made the statement, “You either have integrity or you don’t.” It dawned on me that who I thought I was did not sync up with my actual behavior—an unsettling realization, to say the least.

I had always thought of myself as a person of integrity. And it was true, just not completely—I had allowed myself to bend the rules whenever it was convenient to do so. No more. I vowed to never again let myself get away with tiptoeing over the line just because I could. If that meant I had to stop by the library instead of using the copy machine at work, so be it.

Funny how the little things matter so much. Waiting until I left work to do anything of a personal nature made me feel more peaceful, made me feel like I was living a more honorable life. That makes sense. I was.

There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.
French proverb

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2 Responses to “You Either Have Integrity Or You Don’t”

  1. Marie Says:

    I don’t know who to credit with the quote, but the best definition of integrity I ever heard:

    “Integrity is defined by what you do when you think no one is watching.”

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Yes. Here are some more:

    The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out.
    Thomas Babington Macaulay

    Integrity is not a 90 percent thing, not a 95 percent thing; either you have it or you don’t.
    Peter Scotese

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