Responses to Venky's Second Question:
Can It Ever Be Right to Sacrifice Your Self Respect in the Short Term for the Possibility of Tremendous Financial Gain in the Long Run?

Note to the Reader: This is the first group of responses to the second question that our friend Venky asked. For a refresher on what the question is, look back at the Philosophers' Corner index.

Response 1: from Ed Brenegar, Consulting Fellow

Tom and Venky - This is a very difficult question to answer. Not because of the choice to be made, between wealth and humilation and average income and self respect, but because of the number of qualifications placed on the chosing that make it very difficult to act in a single minded manner.

Venky's friend really wants to be a teacher. That seems to be his life's purpose, yet he involves himself in the world of business to provide financial security for his family. Both of those motivations are good and appropriate. Following your passion or purpose is a good thing. Providing for your family is a good thing. Wanting to live in your home country is a good thing. But there is a problem with what he feels he must sacrifice in order to gain these good things.

Good sacrifices are those that build character and discipline, not break us down. Venky's friend has made a decision. He can now look at his subsequent experience as an investment in wisdom. he can now learn deeply what it means to be a person whose individuality and daily experience are subject to the ego of another person who holds power over him. He is placing himself into a relationship of trust - meaning that he is trusting this boss to make him rich - and this relationship is with a person who does not respect him as being an individual of equal worth. Perhaps he can learn from this experience what others unfortunately too often have to live with, and become a person who seeks justice on behalf of the downtrodden in our world. If he is good at business, then perhaps he can even use his position as a way to teach others how to treat people with respect, while succeeding and becoming wealthy.

I know I am being very charitable here, but the decision has been made. Now the problem is how to make the most of a controversial decision. But I should say something about the decision itself.

Venky's friend reminds me of many people I encounter who are confused because the many ideals that they hold are viewed in isolation from each other. He must think wholistically to understand his situation. Is it a Zero-Sum game? Trading self-respect for wealth? I don't think so. I think it is more complex than that. I sense that he believes he can voluntarily subject himself to daily humiliation without any negative effects in the long term. I don't believe it can work like that. Standing by your principles is the only way to remain strong in your character and self-esteem. He must gauge what he will lose by working for such a person that he can never recover.

He must also ask how this will affect his family. He will not be alone in shouldering the impact of a demeaning situation. I don't have any specific studies on this to point to, but I've met the director of the Center for Work & Family at Boston College, whose website is full of references that might lead to helpful insights here. The website is www.bc.edu/wfnetwork.

One last thought. If Venky's friend is good at what he does, then there are other firms that could use his skills. Knowing that he wants to teach is a very important step, because many organizations need teachers to equip their staffs for success. I think he should consider other places of employment as well. The man who has now hired him is not the only person who can provide him with an environment that can lead to some degree of financial security. He really should look at other options.
Thanks again for asking. Ed

Response 2 from Nick Campbell
Staff Engineer, Johnson & Johnson

Tom and Venky - I read Venky's latest email with a mixture of emotions: amazement, sadness, empathy.

How many of us have wrestled with the same idea? If we take on a challenge that isn't fully consistent with our core beliefs, at least the possibility of a big payoff will keep us going through the hard times. (Been there, done that)

But when the hard times appear, is the lure of material riches sufficient to keep us going? And since when is security guaranteed? Douglas MacArthur famously said that "There is no security; there is only opportunity."

I feel a bit awkward in responding to Venky's letter, since the outcome has already been decided. No one needs a Monday morning quarterback to tell them what they should have done.

But, heck, since you asked ...!
In any corporation, job, or business, everyone seems to have the same overriding goal: we all want to make a better life for ourselves and our families, and we try to achieve this goal the only way we know how! You, me, the boss, everyone wants to improve their position, whether it's spiritual, emotional, financial, whatever. We just don't all do it the same way. That doesn't mean I'm right and you're wrong. It just means that what works for one might not work for another. This type of professional empathy has helped me to understand that my boss can be thought of, and treated as, an ally, not an opponent. Does this make sense?

Do we go to work for any reason other than to make our situation a little better? More money in the bank, a bigger house, a nicer car, more clothes.
-These are all goals that can be attained by work.

But do we really need them?

Ask Seneca; he'll tell you to sleep on the floor once each month, just to understand how very little we need in order to survive. And his fellow stoic Marcus Aurelius realized how little we actually need in order to be happy.

So why bother going to work at all? Picture these words on your tombstone: "He had a solid portfolio." Big Deal.

On a recent trip to Texas, I had lunch with my former boss. As we were reminiscing about a huge project that had fallen on tough times, he commented that "When people are reduced to their most basic levels by adversity, all they have left is their character and core beliefs." The proclamation struck me like a brick. This man's 14-year old son shot and killed himself last year. Now he is wondering if his work really matters in the grand scheme of things, and he's struggling to regain a sense of purpose and meaning. And he won't regain that perspective simply because of a big paycheck.

You can suffer for five years at a job you hate, waiting for the payoff. Just remember that waiting is not an activity!

Having said all that; since Venky's friend has made the decision to take the job, all he can do now is to make it work. Don't dwell on the pettiness, the power plays, the control scenarios. Understand that no one can take advantage of you without your permission.

Most importantly: "If you can't see the bright side, polish the dull side!"

The only way to achieve career or life satisfaction is to do what you love. Forget the money, forget the power, forget the possibility of financial independence (which may never come). Just follow your passion.

And you know what? The material rewards will follow you anyway! This advice, by the way, is coming from a guy firmly entrenched in the bowels of Corporate America!

When we stop looking for moremoremore and start optimizing our present, we invent a sort of alchemy; we can actually create a utopia from our current resources with our bare hands!! And this attainment of satisfaction and purpose becomes effortless, just like Russell Conwell suggests in "Acres of Diamonds."

One more thought. Venky's friend in effect justified taking the dreaded new job by reasoning that "Since I'm already sucking up, why not continue on this wonderful path for another five years?"

Is that how any of us really wants to live? What happens if, after five years, the company tanks? All you've got to show for it is a bunch of sucking up. In the words of Robin Williams: "This will not look good on a resume!"

Thus speaketh the Corporate Philosopher - Apprentice.
Carpe Diem. Nick

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