Principle Wins

Copyright 2006 Mike Pniewski

Have you ever been asked to compromise your values? Been offered a chance to score big-time money or a huge promotion if you’d only bend the rules just a little bit? People who declare themselves to be your friends are tossing excuses at you like “No one will ever know” or “People do it all the time.” You begin to think that they may be right and you’ll never see an opportunity as great as this again. If you just do it this one time, you can enjoy your newfound success and pledge to never do it again. You’re a good person and even though this may be unethical, it’s only one time and you’ll still be a good person.

It’s tempting. We see compromise and a lack of ethics all around us to the point that it seems to justify the idea that any means necessary are acceptable to achieve as long as you get the payoff. And, boy, the payoffs are amazing! These hyper-driven types that take no prisoners are driving some nice cars and living in some mighty palatial digs. The last thing you want to be is the guy who’s on the outside looking in. It’s a dog eat dog world and you don’t want to be the milk bone!

So your intense desire to reach the top combined with a lack luster feeling about your current situation, leads you to have that inner dialogue that says it’s OK to break some rules or hurt some people if it means that you get ahead.

Here’s the truth as I see it: you compromise your principles, you can never go back. From here on out, you’ll know that what you did belied who you are and that will torture and inhibit you forever. Going against your core values in order to achieve material gain will forever change the way you view yourself and how others view you. Yes, sooner or later, people find out. Word will get around about your visit to the dark side and you’ll have a lot of fun running away from that.

I’m a union guy, have been for over 20 years. The performers unions have been good to my family and me and I have an impassioned belief in the value of organization. With membership comes a commitment to only work union. But, I see too many examples of members who have cheated on their commitment to our unions by doing nonunion work. In that case, our collective power is weakened as they selfishly pursue more money at all costs.

Have I ever been offered these sorts of opportunities? You bet–even at times in my career when I needed the money! I can honestly say to you I have always and will always say no. And not even so much for the sake of the union, but primarily because it’s not who I am. I made a pledge and I plan to keep it. No amount of money for one job is worth giving up on a long term commitment. At the end of the day, I have to look my family in the eye and know that I am who I say I am. I can’t do that knowing that I gave up a part of me so I could score a big job.

For years I’ve always told my students “Don’t give yourself away.” This business will ask a lot of you as you work towards your dream of being a successful, working actor but you can’t compromise who you are in the process. You’ll be pushed to the line morally and ethically but you have to hold firm on what matters to you. In the end, your truth is all you’ve got. In any business, you are your greatest asset. Who you are, what your gifts are, what you stand for, your work ethic, are the most vivid definitions of how you benefit the world around you. Giving up even a part of that weakens the power of your whole being. One union member working “off the card” hurts every member. A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link.

Stand up for what you believe in and pledge to never comprise yourself in order to get ahead. You don’t need it! Trust in your gifts and your commitment. Legitimate hard work and talent do win out, even when you see those around you taking the low road and seemingly winning. No matter what that little voice may be saying to you in your moments of doubt—principle wins.