In an era of intense pressure to succeed, we’re often faced with the dilemma to do well OR do good. Our ambitions for money, security, and recognition can drive us to make choices that enrich ourselves while hurting others. The news provides us an endless parade of Bernie Madoffs holding their heads in shame for prioritizing greed above all else.
While you’re probably not a crook, you likely face similar dilemmas on a subtler, yet consistent basis. Should you overbill your client just a tad to boost revenue? Should you make your co-worker look bad to make yourself look good? Should you deliver products or services that are profitable yet overall damaging to society?
Recently, I’ve been bothered by the lyrics of popular rap songs that my kids blast from the car radio. Jay-Z and Kanye West rap about luring young girls into bathroom stalls to “prove why they deserve to have it all.” And the popular rapper Tyga talks with incessant repetitiveness about throwing hundred dollars bills (“hunnits”) on naked strippers.
Now I’m no prude and I’m all for artistic expression. But peddling obnoxious trash to audiences in order to sell more records can’t be making the world a better place. Sure, these “artists” are scoring a bunch of cash. But at what cost?
A simple test you can use when facing a decision is to imagine that your actions will be covered in great detail on the front page of The New York Times the next morning. A big, tell-all feature explaining the choice you made for the whole world to see. Would you be proud of your actions or ashamed by them? Excited to share the story with your friends and family or overwhelmed by humiliation?
You could go one step further and ask yourself if someday your grandkids heard the story, how would you feel? Think Tyga and Kanye would be excited to share their primal lyrics with their 8-year-old granddaughters?
Take a good look in the mirror and examine your career, relationships, parenting style, leadership approach, and level of overall contribution. If that NY Times story was coming out tomorrow, which areas of your life would you wish you could have changed?
Some changes may need to be drastic, while others could be a slight pivot allowing you to contribute value rather than destroy it. Since it’s unlikely the Times will be publishing their story tomorrow, you have the gift of opportunity to make those changes now. So when that story is actually on display, you can beam with pride and know you’ve left a positive mark.
With a little creativity, it’s possible to do well AND do good. Challenge yourself to do the right thing instead of the easy thing, and the rewards will end up being tenfold.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll even enjoy the movie version.