Integrity is one of those things that most people strive to have but many cannot clearly define. Most people will give a vague or partial answer, such as being honest, or doing what is “right” versus what is “wrong,” or having a moral or ethical code.
These are all things that could be part of integrity, but integrity is much larger than being honest or having a moral code. When you live in integrity, you are living in alignment with who you are and your higher self, the person you want to be. You know your values, goals and vision for your life. You bring your gifts, talents and your being forward without censoring them.
Integrity stems from the Latin word whole or complete. When you are living in integrity, you have integrated your entire being into your daily living and continually strive to live up to your vision for yourself. Every day you are faced with choices that require integrity.
Let’s say that one of your key values is honesty and firmly believe that stealing is bad. It’s 5:30 and you’re just getting ready to leave work when your kid calls you. He has a school project that is due tomorrow that he forgot about (this never happens, right?) and he needs some paper and markers to complete it. You are tired. You have been working long hours lately, including weekends. It has been a busy day and you just want to get home, eat dinner and try to relax a little. You could go to Staples and pick up the supplies, but the office supply closet is right down the hall..
If you say to yourself, “I’ll grab the supplies from the office supply closet. No one will miss them. Plus I’ve been working so many hours and am not getting paid any additional for those hours. The least that the company can do is give me some paper and markers as a thank you.” then guess what? You’ve just compromised your integrity and your value that states that stealing is bad.
You could argue that the theft of some paper and markers is nowhere near as bad as when someone steals a car or breaks into a home. You might also say that telling a “little white lie” isn’t bad and definitely isn’t as bad as a lie that hurts someone.
But here’s the thing: when you compromise your integrity, it doesn’t matter the degree of the compromise. Stealing paper or stealing a Lamborghini hurts your soul/spirit the same way. Each time you compromise your integrity, your spirit gets what I’ll call a ding or a nick that depletes you of some of your light and energy.
Shamans work with a person’s soul or spirit energy (I use both words interchangeably.) Your soul is the spirit part of your being that is connected to Divine Source and is pure love. When you are born, you are like a shiny brand new car. Your soul/spirit energy is clear, full and bright. But as you go through life, much as when you drive a new car off the dealership lot, things happen. When you’re driving, dirt may cover the windshield, a pebble may ding the door, or you might have an accident and lose a bumper. The same is true of your spirit. While some of the dirt and dings may come from external sources (an argument or negative interaction with someone, for example), some also come directly from you. Compromising your integrity is one of those ways.
These nicks and dings to your soul have an impact on your overall health and wellbeing. You cut away at your own self-worth and self-esteem. Over time, with enough nicks and dings, you can lose sense of who you are. Your spark of life and individual being is dimmed. You may become numb and desensitized to the world around you. You become incomplete. All of these things can lead to physical, mental and emotional dis-ease.
So, how do you live a life of integrity? Here are some suggestions.
Truly know yourself and who you are. Integrity starts from within. There is no way that you can be whole or complete without first knowing who you are. Unfortunately, many of us do not know ourselves. We have buried our true selves under layers of personas, limiting beliefs and masks.
- Personas are attributes we take on, often in childhood, to help us navigate life. For example, as a child you may have had a sickly parent and took on a “caretaker” persona. Or perhaps you were the “funny one” or the “smart one” or the “peacemaker.” The persona defined who you were and where you fit into the family. It often defined what you did and what you didn’t do. The “funny one,” for example, was there to make people laugh, but may not have been given the latitude to have a deeper breadth of emotions, such as sadness, despair or anxiety.
- Limiting beliefs are things that we have either been told by family, friends, organizations, or society — or are things that we tell ourselves — that tend to hold us back. Many of my clients feel that they are not worthy or are not lovable. These are limiting beliefs that 1) are not true and 2) are holding them back from connecting fully to the amazing person that they are.
- We wear masks out of fear of being ridiculed or not being accepted. High school cliques are a great example — students may be tagged as jocks, nerds, popular, etc. Usually, the students in each group try to blend in with their group by wearing similar clothing, adopting similar language, etc. They will mask parts of themselves that they feel don’t “fit” with the group they are in. Masks are not limited to high school. As adults, we often mask parts of ourselves depending on the situation. Think about how you present yourself at work vs. at home vs. when you are with close friends. Chances are you show different parts of whom you are depending on whom you are with.
To truly know who you are, you need to release your personas and limiting beliefs and strip away the masks that you have been wearing. This requires some deep introspection and honest assessment so that you can get to the core of your being and integrate all the different pieces of you into one complete being. It also requires courage, because living in integrity demands that you share the “real you” with the world.
Understand — and live! — your gifts and life purpose. You are unique and have something to share with the world through your gifts, talents, abilities and life purpose. When you don’t, you are falling back into personas, limiting beliefs and masks. When I work with clients, I’m always surprised to see the number of clients who hide their gifts or purpose. They may not see them as gifts, they may not think their gifts are valuable, or they may not be comfortable sharing them. Or, they may not know their purpose. Your gifts and purpose are what make you “you.” When you don’t use them or hide them, you are living out of alignment of who you are and your integrity. We are meant to live much bigger and bolder than many of us do. Ask yourself, “What is my biggest vision for my life?” and pay attention to the answer. You’ll get some great insights into your gifts and purpose because that life vision you just described is aligned with your higher self and your integrity.
Get really clear on your values. Values are the things or attributes that are important to you so you can be a “good” person and are unique to each of us. These are the types of things that are usually listed when someone is asked to define integrity, and can include things such as honesty, respect, connection, family, good work ethic, or trust. Think of them as your personal north star to guide you as you go through your life, helping you to make decisions that are aligned with your higher self, your heart and your life purpose and gifts. Listing them is not enough, however. You also need to be able to define them. What does “honesty” mean to you and how will it be applied to your life so that you are living in integrity?
Sometimes our lives require us to make choices that are difficult and we need to balance our values. We don’t live in a world where everything fits neatly into little compartments. Life is messy and nothing is ever as simple as a black and white decision or situation. When that happens, it’s important to determine which of your values is the most important to you so you can be as much as in integrity as possible.
For example, let’s say that you are a single parent and have three children to provide for. You’ve been downsized from your company and are looking for a new job, but are having a difficult time finding one that encompasses your values of caring/providing for your children and challenging yourself to learn and grow every day. You finally get a job offer for a job that will provide for your family, but would be a dead-end job. There wouldn’t be any opportunities for growth or challenging projects.
If your top priority is caring for your family, you could take that job and know that you are in integrity with what is most important for you. While you wouldn’t have many options to learn and grow in the job, you might be able to live that value in another way — or, you could commit to yourself that you would work at the job until the market got better and then find a different job that was more aligned with both your values.
Bring your integrity forward every day. Living in integrity is only impactful when you live it and demonstrate it to others and society at large. When you share yourself wholly, you serve as a beacon that encourages others to do the same.
However, keep in mind that when you are living in integrity you also have to live within the rules of society. You can, of course, work to challenge and change any injustices you see, but you cannot live your integrity and hurt or hold down others in the process. Integrity demands that you consider and care for the wellbeing of other members of society.
Regularly check in with yourself. Integrity is one of those things that we have to pay attention to, be conscious of, and practice. Are you living in integrity? Are there areas where you are cutting corners or getting sloppy? Why? Have your values changed?
Living in integrity takes courage and work!
You need to be aware of who you are and who you want to be, and what is important to you. You will need to face your fears of rejection and ridicule when you show your true, complete self to the world. You’ll have to overcome fear or nervousness to say no, stand up for yourself, or stand up for others when the situation warrants it. You’ll also have to be brutally honest with yourself and self-correct when you get off course.
But the benefits far outweigh the work. When you live in integrity, you are being authentic. You bring the best aspects of yourself forward everyday and you inspire others to do the same. You are clear on your life purpose and your path, and are able to stay true to that path. In short, you are the person that you are meant to be, aligned with your higher self and soul.