The weight of integrity
There’s a universal desire to have our ideas, opinions and work treated with respect and given significance. We want to be seen as experts and true professionals—we want what we do to have enough weight to matter.
We might think that what gives our work weight is pedigree from a school, degree or certification. While that can certainly be true—I wouldn’t work with a doctor or lawyer who didn’t have the required training—it’s not always the case. Some of the best writers and designers have zero hours of traditional schooling under their belt.
We might also believe that this desired weight comes from outward appearance, or number of zeros in our bank account or even the sum total of our previous accomplishments. And while those things can be a part of it, I believe theirs is a small, non-leading role.
Finally, we might feel that in order to be seen as a professional we’ve got to be masters of our skill or “the best” at the work we do. Skill is no doubt important, but again, it’s difficult to measure being the best at something in any industry. (How is that even judged? Vapid industry awards that no one cares about?) Skill without the right approach just as easily leads to a lack of respect and significance: just ask any egotistical or hard-to-work-with person how much business they get from their mastered skill-set.
Perhaps this weight comes from something else entirely. Something simple but not easy to attain, regardless of education, upbringing or attire. Becoming a true professional feels more like a mindset that turns into action, than a set of external factors. Starting internally in how we approach our work, then moving outwards in how others view us, view our work, and then give it weight.
I think this weight starts with integrity.
This integrity weighs more than skills because skills can be misused or communicated poorly, whereas integrity simply is. You can have a degree or dress the part, and still lack integrity. But if you have it, it can become the building block for everything else.
In an interview I did with Danielle LaPorte (for Company of One), she spoke about integrity being the cornerstone of being seen as a professional as well. She explains, “You do what you say you’re going to do. I mean really, that’s our consistent complaint about the disappointments of humanity. If people only did what they said they were going to do, the world would operate with both efficiency and incredible beauty.”
Degrees without integrity lead to things like scientific research being guided by companies who require you to publish only positive-to-them outcomes. Appearance without integrity is like a stylish lawyer who chases ambulances. Skill without integrity is like a brilliant programmer who writes software that takes advantage of users and preys on their desires (like noticing if they’re depressed to sell them more things they don’t need, *cough*, Facebook).
You can’t just say you’ve got integrity or list it as a virtue on your LinkedIn profile. You have to be someone with integrity. Integrity’s weight doesn’t come from words, it comes from action. It starts before you even begin working, as a guiding force that moves you through what you create, how you create it, and why you’re bringing it into the world.
Acting with integrity isn’t a sure-fire way to have the weight of respect and significance given to you and your work—each and every moment, without fail. But, without it, those things won’t ever even have a chance of happening.