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Some might say that it’s easy to be on stage and perform well, particularly if you are motivated (as I am) by public accountability. If you’re like me, it’s important to be true to your word, to be the very best you can be, and be a living example of the ideals you espouse. When all of the world is a stage, we tend to be on our best behavior.

But what happens when the cameras are off and the audience goes home? Thomas Macaulay, an American essayist and historian, said “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.” A good litmus test is to ask yourself, whatever you are doing right now, whether you would want your family to read on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow.

When preparing for my last bodybuilding competition, I resolved that I would remove Iced Tea from my diet, as it had too much sugar and invisible carbs. In fact, I laid out a personal challenge, and over dinner shared this “dare” with my good friends: if I drank any iced tea (my favorite drink at the time) for the next few months leading up to the competition, I would have to treat the group to $250 collectively. They were thrilled!

That week, my wife and I were on a date at the movies, and she asked what snack I wanted at the concession stand. Reflexively, I answered “Iced tea, of course!” I had temporarily forgotten about my commitment to my friends. The following day, my wife and I were leaving for a drive to see some friends and, stopping at a convenience store, I asked her what she wanted to drink for the road. As I was getting out of the car, I turned suddenly to her and said “Oh my goodness! I was about to walk into the store and buy an Iced Tea, without thinking! I would have reneged on my promise to my friends, and I would have had to pay them $250! Wow, that was close!”

My wife said “You had an iced tea at the movies last night!” I stared in silence. “What?” I asked incredulously. “Last night at the movies,” she said again. “But it doesn’t matter; just start the contest today.” I felt my heart sink into my guts. I said softly “Sweetheart, I can’t reset the start time of the contest.”

She rolled her eyes. “Come on, NO ONE WILL KNOW!”
I replied “I will know.”

Needless to say, I paid my friends the $250. They were thrilled! I might have lost $250 cash, but I won the bigger prize of knowing I did the right thing, especially since no one else would have known. I believe it’s important to keep our word in small matters, because it toughens us up and prepares us for the really big tests when they come. The next time your integrity is tested, and no one else would know, make it a point of pride to admit your mistake. The credibility you will build in your eyes and in the eyes of others will astound you.