Even if you’re not particularly cynical, perhaps you notice that there seem to be quite a few dishonest people who act in what can only be called questionable ways. These can be people who operate within illegal venues in society, such as drug dealers or other career criminals, or it can be more subtle, such as the businessman who nonetheless operates a little bit on the shady side in particular business deals, politicians who don’t tell the truth, and the like. In many cases, these types of people measure their success not by their own integrity, but by how much money they make. However, this is an imperfect yardstick at best and not at all a determining factor of just how successful your life is.
Simply put, true success is determined by not how much you make, but how you make it and how you live your life. Character and integrity are key. No matter how rich you are, if you lack character, you have nothing.
What is character? It means that you operate from a base of integrity, which means that you operate within your moral code, even when no one is watching you or there to reward you. It means that fear and guilt are temporary and occasional visitors to your life who simply appear to help you make amends when necessary but don’t stay long. It means that you have nothing to hide, which in turn gives you the freedom to achieve success to its fullest.
Some people call this the “golden rule,” whereby they treat others as they would want to be treated. Every day, you have a chance (or more than one) to practice this rule for yourself. For example, if at work you are tempted to steal credit for someone else’s idea so that you’re the one who receives the promotion, this is at best a hollow victory and not really yours. Rather, practicing the golden rule means giving credit where credit is due — and that means taking it (with modesty) when it’s yours as well. Only then will the goals you reach be truly yours and be worth your pride. On the other hand, if you step on people to get where you’re going, you can only expect that the same is going to happen to you by others. In short, you get what you give.
For a better life, try treating people as you want to be treated. Treat them with respect, honesty and courtesy. Appropriate anger is okay, but losing your temper is not. Of course, most of us have at one time or another regretted losing our temper or something similar in a situation, but this happens to everyone; if this happens, apologize and then move on. People can usually tell when you’re someone with a short fuse who expects to intimidate people as a matter of course, versus someone who simply has had a bad day, has taken responsibility for his or her actions, and has put it to rest.
If you have character and integrity, you recognize as well that success comes from not just your own efforts, but because people helped you along the way. It then behooves you to return the favor and offer somebody else in need the same helping hand you were given at one point.
Photographer Yousuf Karsh, famous for pictures of world leaders and celebrities, noticed this common characteristic of integrity among truly successful people, saying, “I have found that great people do have in common an immense belief in themselves and their mission. They also have great determination as well as an ability to work hard. At the crucial moment of decision, they draw upon their accumulated wisdom. Above all, they have integrity.”
If you’ve been living your life with less integrity than you could, stop and take a good look at what you want. Know that you can have your success and peace of mind as well. Take a moment to pause and consider others before you make your next move. One of the greatest minds of all time, Albert Einstein, said, “Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character,” which means that the opposite is also true. Strength of attitude also becomes strength of character.
Character is simply your essence. Success is only what you achieve. Your achievements can be large or small, but without integrity, they simply don’t matter in the end. If you have children, realize that this, too, is something you can pass on to them, good or bad. Therefore, focus on strength of character with everything you do and let your focus on success take a back seat; I think you’ll find that success will come of its own accord (and be all the sweeter) once character is in place.