by Jeff Wheeler
Age 44. Sacramento, CA
I’m a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I wish I could say that it was a passage from the Book of Mormon that decisively changed me, but it wasn’t. It was an experience I had in the workforce where I was forced to confront my own hypocrisy—that my actions did not match the ideals I had been raised with, and that I needed to change. I’ve shared this embarrassing experience on occasion with small youth groups where I live. It’s not easy to talk about. But I learned the value of integrity after having lost mine for a while.
I’ll summarize the situation briefly. In my late twenties, I worked as a night-shift supervisor at a tech company in Silicon Valley. I was married and my wife had recently had our first child, a baby girl. The night-shift schedule was difficult with a newborn. One of my technicians made a mistake during a routine equipment maintenance procedure during a Saturday night shift. The mistake wasn’t discovered until Monday and resulted in significant factory interruption. In that company, when a mistake is made, it’s like blood in the water and the sharks begin to come. My performance review was dismal that year, and I felt my employment at the company was in jeopardy. It was a difficult time with all the stress of the problem, being a new father, and dealing with night-shift work which was taking its toll on me. I decided it would be a smart move to find another job within the company, on day-shift, where I could escape the problem and start over again.
I found an opportunity in what I thought was a perfect role for me that meshed my interests and abilities. I applied for the job and hoped I would make the shortlist and earn an interview at least.
IT WAS NOT JUST THE SHAME OF BEING CAUGHT. IT WAS REALIZING THAT EVEN IF I HADN’T BEEN CAUGHT, IT WAS STILL WRONG.
Waiting to hear back was torture. The stress I felt took its toll on my health and attitude. I don’t mean to use this as justification for what happened next, just by way of explanation. Because I worked night-shift as a manager, I had the ability to walk around the office building in the middle of the night. And so one night I walked by the cubicle of the hiring manager of the job I wanted so much. It felt wrong to do this, but I justified it in my mind with many excuses. The next night, I went into the cubicle and looked around on her desk. Again, it felt wrong but I justified it. What were the odds, I reasoned, that I would be caught? I thought that if Security came by, I would hear them coming and would be able to make an excuse because I was a manager. I deceived myself.
The third night, I actually sat in the hiring manager’s chair, imagining to myself what it would be like to work in that group. I tried to find some evidence on the desk of who the candidates might be, but I didn’t find anything overt. Then I heard footsteps coming down the hall. My heart began to race, and I imagined that it was Security. You can imagine my shock when the hiring manager came walking into the cubicle at 4AM and found me sitting in her chair.
That was one of the most painful experiences in my life. Let’s just say she wasn’t pleased to meet me under those circumstances. She didn’t decide to press the matter with Security (thankfully), listened to my pathetic excuses and then told me to go, and I left both humiliated and rocked to my core. I realized that somewhere along the way, I had not really espoused the virtue of integrity, even though I had been taught it as a child. After I got home and shamefully explained what happened to my wife, I decided that I never wanted to endure such an experience again. It was not just the shame of being caught. It was realizing that even if I hadn’t been caught, it was still wrong. Losing a job was not worth losing my integrity.
Years ago I began collecting quotes and one of my favorites is from the Roman philosopher Ovid: “No man can purchase his virtue too dear, for it is the only thing whose value must ever increase with the price it has cost us. Our integrity is never worth so much as when we have parted with our all to keep it.” Or, as the scriptures have also taught me: “I, the Lord, love him because of the integrity of his heart, and because he loveth that which is right before me.”
That experience changed me. Slowly, over time, through conscious and deliberate acts I re-built my integrity by speaking the truth and never trying to do anything that would make my wife, children, or God ashamed of me.
OUR INTEGRITY IS NEVER WORTH SO MUCH AS WHEN WE HAVE PARTED WITH OUR ALL TO KEEP IT.
I’m not perfect and grateful that I can still acknowledge my mistakes and fix them. Years later, I was approached by a senior manager at the company and he asked me to work for him as his operations manager and assistant. He told me he wanted me to work for him because he had observed me over the years and that I had integrity. He said that trait was pretty rare. It was very validating at that moment. When I started working for him, I discovered a kindred spirit and a dear friend. I’ve found that weaving virtue into my parenting (we’ve been married 21 years and have five kids now), into the novels I write, into my career at the tech company, and into my relationships has blessed my life enormously. Most importantly, I feel closer to God than I’ve ever felt and that I’m helping people and not just myself.
And that’s the purpose of my life.