Beyond the topics of your research and your role as a member of a research team or a non-researcher employee, lies your soul. We often think that we will go through life untempted, unscathed and unharmed. The reality of our lives is so much different. We may want to do what’s right, we may have been raised with strict morality, but life has a way of bending us, bending our paths, and bending our moral compass.
The golden rule
In your career, keep the golden rule close to you and follow it. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is an aphorism by which to live. It will enrich your soul, leave you with few regrets and, in some cases, pile upon you riches of accomplishment and even money.
The golden rule is an investment strategy. If there is an opportunity to help someone else, do it. It may be nothing to you, and, in the grand scheme of things, it may be irrelevant. Yet to the person who you help, reaching out may make all the difference.
People in companies, in their careers, often live lives of quiet desperation. Companies can steal the souls from people, forcing people to act against their own nobler characters. Careers are hard. And, long careers, decades long, are even harder, drying the soul, flaying the spirit, and sucking out the marrow of one’s innards. It is in these moments that your act of kindness may become a lifesaver.
Of course, you may ask whether or not you will receive anything in return. In our lives we often use the Economics metaphors, such as ‘what will be my return on investment for this good deed’?’ And, in fact, you may not get anything from this individual, at least anything that you can directly trace to this act of kindness. It’s not a tit-for-tat world. Yet a lifetime of observation suggests that there is some type of universal economy. These acts of goodness do come back, perhaps in ways that are not perceptibly linked to specific good deeds.
We’ve all heard of the notion of ‘payback’. Generally payback is taken in its negative implication of a punishment; although payback can also be used in the positive sense. In either case, however, payback means that someone did something to another and that, later in time, the other person is returning in kind. Think about the notion of payback, but this time in the forward direction. Why not make an investment in the future by doing a good deed? It could mean inviting a colleague to be a co-investigator on a project and a co-author on the paper. Or it could mean sharing the leadership of a strategic initiative in a business effort. In either case, you are investing in the future. You’re not paying back. You’re creating a relationship with the other individual based on your positive deed. You’re putting money into an emotional bank in the hopes that you will eventually be rewarded. It doesn’t always work, these small acts often generate good feelings, and those good feelings, in turn, create positive futures. A little of your professional capital today invested in this way will eventually earn dividends when you are systematic about these small, but meaningful, pay-forward investments.
The old proverb continues to work today: ‘to err is human, to forgive is divine.’ We’re not talking here about being a saint. Rather, during the course of your career you will come up against many different situations where you may feel someone is slighting you. What you perceive to be a slight will be, no doubt, simply part of the give and take of a normal professional life. Don’t waste your time being angry about a perceived slight. More likely, the so-called abuse is either an oversight or the result of a different agenda on the part of the other person. You can waste a lifetime feeling slighted, injured and abused. Don’t waste the time. It’s not coming back.
Never, never abuse the power you have been given
During the course of your career, you will often come into positions where you can exert control over other people. These are the moments that will try your soul. Be very careful about these moments. When you have power over people, such as supervising a subordinate or giving out contracts, there is the tendency in all of us to enjoy the feeling of power. In some cases, the boss may actually believe that he is superior, or the person having control of budgets to allocate to outside contractors may come to feel a sense of superiority to them. In such moments, you may make a terrible mistake, such as abusing those subordinate to you. And that mistake could fester in the minds and memories of others. Even if you are not inclined to saintliness, try here. You don’t want to be thought badly of by others over whom you had control.
On the other hand, the good you do may be buried with you – so don’t stay up waiting for repayment.When it comes time for the end, and we all must get there sooner or later, you won’t necessarily be happy with your triumphs over people, and certainly won’t be happy with the thought of those you may have destroyed on the way to the top. You will, however, be happy with the memory of the good you did. Aim for good. It’s the best way. At the end of the day, it’s probably best to pursue the virtuous path, simply because it is right.
It’s the small things that matter. Very often we hear that you shouldn’t ‘sweat’ the small things and that everything is, in essence, a small thing. The truth of the matter is that just about everything you’re going to do comprises a series of small things. This is especially true for your work. No, you don’t have to be perfect in your work. But, you should try to make sure that your work is ‘right.’ There’s a reason for this. People don’t necessarily see the big picture. They don’t see the goals or the grand scheme of things. And so, when people judge you, they evaluate you on what THEY can see. And those things – well, they’re the small things.
Sharing the glory increases it more than you could ever realize
You may feel that the world is horribly competitive, and it is. With such a world view, it will do wonders for you and your career if you share the glory. Recognize that you are not up against the world. Hoarding the glory won’t make you any safer. Sharing credit with others, inviting others to work with you on visible projects, publishing with others, and giving others the chance that they ‘need’ will go a long way. People don’t forget kindnesses. The good may be interred with you, but the truth of the matter is that if you are kind to a sufficiently large number of people, the kindness will be returned.
As you plan your day, your year, your career, ask yourself about what you value most in your life. And, choose the moral path. You will gain, your career will blossom, and the rewards to your soul will be incalculable. At the end of the day, you will be the person you were meant to be, and your career will be a fitting accompaniment and adornment for the life you will have led.