Integrity Is Your Brand.

Recently I had two experiences which took me a bit by surprise. The first was when a representative from an online gambling site contacted me and asked me to consider affiliating with their website.  Apparently they had read several of my blogs and found my site and the posts to be in their words “respectable” and “well written.” They wondered how much I’d charge for them to be able to include a link to their site in my next blog.

As many of you can guess, I derive no direct monetary income from this blog.  The revenue I do get comes in requests for consultation, workshops and speaking engagements from people find me through this site, and summer is slower in those areas.  Needless to say the idea of making some money from the blog is always tempting.  And I have nothing against online gambling per se.  But I declined, and at this point I can’t imagine accepting advertising or affiliating.  It might be more tempting if Blizzard or Nintendo were to call, but even then I would have to decline.  Not because I think affiliate marketing is inherently wrong, but because in this case something more valuable is at stake.

The second experience didn’t involve money, but it was actually an even harder decision.  Not long ago I had the privilege of being elected to the board of a professional organization.  I’ve been on several boards, so I was expecting to commit a lot of time and work to this one.  What I wasn’t expecting was to get a call from the chair about my blog.  Seems that someone had forwarded a post where I criticized several organizations for their stance on technology, including this one.  I was told that I’d have to retract the post, and refrain from making any future critical posts about the group.

This is an organization I think highly of, and I can tell that the members of this group are not just in it for the title.  I’m sure I could have done a lot of good serving on it.

But again, I had to decline.

Neither money nor a titular position is more important than my integrity.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say to you that integrity is your brand.

It’s important not to make the mistake of demonizing either of the two parties in the examples.  There is nothing inherently wrong with marketing or in my opinion online gambling.  But I have not built my reputation on being an expert on gambling, and I’m not one.  So even though the website might derive benefit from having a respectable blog link to them, I wouldn’t.  Sure money is great, but as I said, something more valuable, my integrity, might be lost.  I have worked too hard and too long to risk losing that.

I can also understand the board’s point of view: As an ambassador of the organization, whatever I say about it, critical or otherwise could be problematic for them.  I don’t agree with them entirely, but when I understood what was expected my choice was clear.  This blog isn’t Mashable, but many of you have been reading it for as long as it has been up.  And people expect me to tell it like it is, whether it be about technology, gamer-affirmative therapy, or growing your private practice.  If you’ve read the comments you know that everyone doesn’t always agree with my point of view.  But many people have come to find the blog, and me, consistent and honest.  There are other people who can do board work, but without my integrity there is no blog.

At the risk of sounding self-righteous, I know that writing this has made a difference in the lives of therapists and the patients they treat.  It has allowed me to gain access to publications and groups to spread the word that technology is not incompatible with therapy, and that gamers need therapists who are culturally competent in gaming rather than contemptuous prior to investigation.  Seasoned clinicians have told me that they have begun to rethink some of the cherished ideas our field holds about addiction, and fledgling therapists have sought me out for supervision on how to grow and market a profitable and socially just practice.  And of course writing for all of you has helped me feel “powered-up” to continue to do the work even when there’s pushback from colleagues and our field.

I’m not telling you this just for catharsis.  And I don’t have that “Blog With Integrity” badge on the blog just for show.  Here’s what I want to make sure you know:

One day, maybe very soon if it hasn’t already happened, you’re going to realize you’re a success.  You’ll realize that you haven’t been worrying about your practice as much, or that your caseload is full, or that you’re being asked to teach on your expertise.  One day, you’re going to be a success.  And when that happens, you’re going to have opportunities that require you to make tough choices.  Because people will notice you’ve become successful. Whether it be those word of mouth referrals or podcast interviews, you’re going to have become more influential.  Some people will want to harness your influence to help them, others will want to harness it to control it.  And the only person who can decide what choice to make is you.

If you don’t feel comfortable seeing yourself as successful or influential, that’s your problem.  Ignorance is always a vulnerability.  You matter.  The work you do matters.  Your thoughts and opinions matter.  Its when we don’t think we have an impact that we hurt our patients, our families, our business, in fact our world.

Immanuel Kant once said, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”  I take this to mean act as if anything you were about to do in your life would become a universal law for how to do it.  That’s heavy stuff.  It’s not easy to decide how to act in a way that you’d be willing to have be the way to act for the rest of your life. In this case, blog with integrity.

Integrity is your brand.  Are you willing to do what keeps you whole and constant in your therapy, business and life?  Do you stand up for the things you believe in even when they cost you money, comfort or being liked? And perhaps most difficult, are you willing to notice your success, admit that you matter, and live with the knowledge that you have an impact on the world?