On Personal Integrity

by Stephen Mills on December 6, 2009

Sell Your Soul

My friend Jonathan wrote a blog article called Is Your Integrity For Sale?.  Jonathan’s article discussed an example where he had an opportunity to make a windfall for being dishonest.  Fortunately for him and us, he declined.  I want to expand on this topic a little because there is a much more common currency than money by which many of us sell our integrity.  That currency is the approval of others.

I think we all, to one degree or another and at one time or another, are tempted to sell out part of our authentic self in return for the approval of others.  I’ve always tried very hard not to do this, and in my real non-virtual day-to-day world, I’ve been pretty successful at it.  Whether or not I’m as successful at being my authentic self in my online world is a question that still nags at me sometimes.

I published the article Don’t Fake Yourself Into Failure and Unhappiness when my blog was very young, and it remains one of my all time favorites.  I think it is a favorite because it represents such a deeply held value for me.  Please take a couple of moments to read the article.  It is fairly short.

“If you sell yourself out to get approval, you will miss what you really want: authenticity, passion, and aliveness.”  — Alan Cohen

Are your actions intended to please your own soul or are they intended to win the approval of others?  Selling your soul for approval is every bit as bad and maybe even worse than selling your soul for money.  Don’t fall into that trap.  It will never be worth it in the long run.

What do you think?  Leave a comment and join the conversation.


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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Gordie Rogers December 7, 2009 at 12:52 am

I think in life people create personae to help them with success. A clear example I know is the British Comedian, Benny Hill. He came across as lecherous and humourous in his comedy, but actually was almost a hermit and shy in real life. It’s hard to say, whether personae are wrong or not.
.-= Gordie Rogers´s last blog ..Lifestyle Design – Three Ways To Know You’re Ready! =-.


Stephen Mills December 7, 2009 at 5:23 pm

Hi Gordie, I agree but only if the persona is the activity itself. An obvious case is actors. If you are creating a persona that is a sell out of your true self just to get approval, then I think that is where you go astray. Thanks for commenting!


Positively Present December 7, 2009 at 7:04 am

Stephen, I really enjoyed this post. I think integrity is something that’s so important and it’s something that isn’t talked about enough (especially when it comes to raising children). I recently saw Disney’s latest princess film (yep, I’m SUCH a girl! haha) and I realized that was one of the prominent themes in the film, a fact I thought was pretty brilliant. Thanks for sharing your insights on this topic. I love how you took an idea you read about somewhere else and built on it!
.-= Positively Present´s last blog ..oh, what fun!: the benefits of being festive =-.


Stephen Mills December 7, 2009 at 9:05 pm

Hi Dani, I’m really glad you liked it. And yes you are such a girl :-), I probably won’t be watching the movie. Thanks!


Jay Schryer December 7, 2009 at 7:32 am

This is one of my biggest problem areas. Personal integrity isn’t the problem so much as professional integrity. My day job isn’t a good reflection of who I truly am, but I keep it (in part) because I know many people in my life approve of it. That’s one part of my lack of integrity with the job.

The other part is that because I don’t like it, I don’t do as good a job as I should, and I cut corners whenever I can. It’s a total mismatch between my values and my actions. The mismatch causes heartache and suffering. I cause myself pain by keeping myself in an intolerable situation, and yet I am unwilling (at least for now) to change it.

The solution, of course, is to find another job. I’m happy to say that the day is coming when I can afford to do that. In the meantime, I’ve spent the past few months working on being the best employee I can be. The rewards have been fulfilling so far.
.-= Jay Schryer´s last blog ..Paying It Forward =-.


Lisis December 7, 2009 at 10:01 am

Jay, I’m glad you added that last sentence. I was about to say that maybe finding another job isn’t the ONLY solution. If you honestly did try to do your very best work possible, the work itself would probably get more rewarding and you may even get some recognition for it (emphasis on MAY). But at least, between now and the time you can find something you love, your days won’t feel as miserable.

Let’s focus on the positives: you make good money, you don’t have a ton of stress, you are honing your writing (editing) skills, you have a sweet commute, AND you have plenty of time to blog, write, and tweet ME. 🙂

Oh, and Stephen, there’s no way I’d sell out my integrity, ever. I’m totally planning to sell out professionally as soon as my homeschooling mom gig is up, though, so I can afford to take up flying again. I can’t help it. I love flying, and it ain’t cheap!


Stephen Mills December 7, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Hi Lisis. I happen to believe that many if not most people can sometimes significantly escape the rat race while remaining in their current job. You can take two people, each doing the same job, and sometimes you barely recognize that fact. Thanks for stopping by


Lisis December 8, 2009 at 9:26 am

Stephen, this is a brilliant concept which I am only coming to realize now. I believe it will be key to many people preserving their sanity, health, and happiness.

Have you written a post specifically on this topic (not escaping as in “leaving”, but as in “shifting perspective”?) If so, perhaps you could point me in that direction.


Stephen Mills December 7, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Hello Jay, that was a marvelous comment. I think the professional integrity issue is the big one for most people. That’s where we tend to sell our souls for the $ to buy the stuff we don’t want anyway. Thanks for the comment!


Vin - NaturalBias December 7, 2009 at 8:09 am

Great topic, Stephen! I think the incentive to act with integrity is a lot like healthy living or any other worth while cause that requires dedication. It’s easy to give up or not bother, but those who make the effort truly realize the value and no longer see it as something elusive. I think one’s awareness of values plays an important role as well. How can someone stay true to their beliefs if they don’t know what they are?
.-= Vin – NaturalBias´s last blog ..9 Life Improving Christmas Gift Ideas =-.


Stephen Mills December 7, 2009 at 9:19 pm

Hiya Vin. It so often comes back to those values doesn’t it?


Ideas With A Kick December 7, 2009 at 8:11 am

Hey Steve,

Integrity is a big topic for me. I think a lot of us get educated intro trying to create certain appearances in order to get what we want, thus sacrificing integrity and authenticity. Integrity, as a way to achieve success is a deeper way seeing thing. Integrity builds trust and credibility, which in a world where alliances are key, I see as the building blocks of success.

.-= Ideas With A Kick´s last blog ..Personal development ideas I can do without =-.


Stephen Mills December 7, 2009 at 9:26 pm

Hello Eduard, thanks for that very thoughtful comment. The trust and credibility issue is important, especially with oneself!


Valerie December 7, 2009 at 9:47 am

I’m going to go off ona bit of a tangent in this comment, but I hope that’s okay.

I like to think I walk through life with my integrity completely intact, but I’d be lying if I said I did. Maybe I don’t look for approval as much as some people, but does that really make me better than them?

The truth is, I don’t think I can completely avoid looking for approval 100% and I’m okay with that fact. I also feel like anyone who says they don’t need any approval is not being completely honest. I mean think about it. What is integrity? What are beliefs and where do they come from? What comes first? The belief or the exposure to the belief?

Suppose the beliefs come first. We then go and surround ourselves with people who tend to think the same way as we do. In that case, we’re still looking for approval. For example, it’s a small world in the personal development blogosphere. As a group, we tend to think the same, agree with each other on a lot of issues, and we aspire to have certain qualities. However, do you consider that to be selling out? At their core people do want to belong, one way or another.

I’d argue that selling out on integrity and looking for approval do not always go hand in hand. I just felt like this distinction needed to be made. I DO agree though, that it is a thin line between seeking approval and selling out.


Stephen Mills December 7, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Hi Valerie, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting approval. In fact it’s probably a human trait that is deep within our genes. Those who didn’t gain approval of their group were kicked out and perished. The survival value of approval ain’t what it used to be though. All things being equal I want approval too.

So you are correct that looking for approval and selling out don’t have to go hand in hand, but I would argue that they usually do. The key point is not the seeking approval side of the issue, but the sacrificing of your soul to get it.

Thanks for your very thoughtful comment!


John D. Buerger, CFP® December 7, 2009 at 11:58 am

Personal Integrity also requires Personal Responsibility. If you are being yourself and your daily activity is in alignment with your values, then you have to accept the responsibility for whatever happens to you. Some folks may not approve because they see the world through the lens of their own personal values.

What is sad is that a majority of people are so willing to lay the blame on someone else or something that happened (which they claim they had no control over) for why they did whatever they did.

Your life is a product of your thoughts, words and actions. Own up to that … and start trying to make more of those thoughts, words and actions in alignment with those things in life that are most important to you. I think you’ll find that when you do, it really doesn’t matter if someone else approves or not.


Stephen Mills December 7, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Hello John, you are absolutely correct in saying that being true to yourself is the important issue. However, as Valerie points out and I agree, you can still care if people approve. Just don’t let that care drive your behavior.


Jonny December 8, 2009 at 5:37 am

Great short post.

I believe personal integrity is the one thing you have complete control over and is the most important thing you have control over.
.-= Jonny´s last blog ..Memories Of A Life Designers First Time =-.


Armen Shirvanian December 8, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Hi Stephen.

Good call here. What is it worth if we had to give up our aspiration or interest to maintain approval? It’s like saving disappointment for a later day. We need to be moving up in our mind’s view toward our desired state.

Approval is overrated. The same person who provides us approval can revoke it tomorrow, and it is out of our control. I’d say it is better to invest in self-approval, and others can approve at their discretion.

Faking into failure is a terrible occurrence because it takes potential greatness, gives it up for a temporary approval goal, and then can lose both.

Thanks for this.
.-= Armen Shirvanian´s last blog ..Discussion On Long Versus Short-Term Efforts =-.


Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills December 9, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Hi Stephen, somehow I missed this one for a few days. This is a very important topic and one that prompts all of us to do some honest self-examination. The need for approval is one of our deepest core desires, and perhaps the reason some are tempted to make internal compromises to try and fill it. I read your other post “Don’t Fake Yourself Into Failure and Unhappiness” and it gives some good every day examples of what you are pointing to here. Thanks for this important work and the link love as well.
.-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..Dealing With Fear At the Source =-.


Nea | Self Improvement Saga December 14, 2009 at 12:58 am

I really enjoyed this post (and the earlier post you recommended). You’re so right about the fact that there are many non-financial ways in which we may compromise our integrity.

For many people, the need to identify with groups and to gain approval from peers is much stronger than the desire to just be. Even people like me– lifelong rebels who dare to break the rules–experience this temptation at some point in life. Afterall, it can be much easier to put on a mask and fit in.

But with self acceptance and personal growth comes the courage to show up as-is no matter what.
.-= Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog ..Positive Reflection and Appreciation for the Past =-.


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