Even if you think you’re honest person, your integrity will forever be challenged, usually when you least expect it.
I recently learned this lesson after a client tried to overpay me by $20,000 on two separate occasions. The first time they simply wired the money into my account without realizing I was already paid. “Either they sent duplicate payment or liked my work so much they gave me a huge bonus,” I thought to myself. I knew it was the former, but sat on the blunder for a few days before notifying the client.
The reason: The devil on my left shoulder made a convincing argument. “Blake,” he said, “maybe you didn’t invoice them the first time?” Nope, I checked my records. I’ve been paid in full. “Okay,” he went on, “but they’re a billion dollar company. They won’t even notice the misplaced $10,000.”
“I doubt it,” the angel on my right shoulder replied. “Imagine if someone got fired for this. Besides, you didn’t earn this money. It doesn’t matter if you omit or commit theft—stealing is wrong. You’re better than this.”
“Yeah,” the devil retorted, “but you just had expensive back surgery and could use the money. I say keep it.”
I told my wife I was having a tough time. Instead of weighing my options, she just encouraged me to do the right thing. “Nothing’s worth your integrity,” she uttered.
So I informed my manager. She commended my honesty. That felt good. Then a lady from accounting contacted me saying the same while adding, “we would have never of known!” That didn’t feel good. Nor did seeing the large chunk of money removed from my available balance.
That’s what makes doing the right thing so difficult sometimes, when no one would have noticed the wrong. Harder still, it’s impossible to prepare for every tempting situation in life. After all, it’s far easier to prepare for the more common, “What if a clerk gave you $20 in extra change?”
Until recently, I had never considered, “What if a billionaire overpays me $10,000 and didn’t know the difference?” To my astonishment, I was immediately tested again after the first good deed. Upon finishing the work, the client authorized me to bill them a third time, forgetting they had already paid me once and failed to overpay me twice. What are the chances?
Well, now I know. Thanks to my inspired friends, family, and conscience, I know very well. There’s no such thing as an honest person, only practicing straight-shooters.
What I still don’t know is when, how, and where the next integrity challenge might strike. Do your worst, red devil!
The story originally published to blakesnow.com on January 27, 2015