Imagine for a moment that a publisher approached you and offered a large sum of money to put your name on the cover of an upcoming book. You would not have the opportunity to preview the book or its contents, but your name would be smeared across the front as a reigning endorsement.
For some of us, that may seem like a terrifying idea. For others, the sum of money would be the only barrier to accepting the deal. For a few hundred dollars, perhaps not. But what about $50,000 or more? The deal becomes harder to turn down as the money increases. But remember, once your name is tarnished for endorsing or supporting the wrong thing, the world (and especially the Internet), never forgets.
One of my longtime dreams was to write and podcast professionally for an online technology news site. I've done many independent projects, some leading to a local radio spot or other minor work, but it took years to finally break through.
One day, I saw a well known tech blog put out a call for writers. A site I had followed for a long time and held in high esteem. They took a chance on me, and I finally had the opportunity to write about technology and get paid to do it!
Companies sent me accessories and products just because my name was associated with a popular news site. Not only that, but my second dream of hosting a top-ranked technology podcast came true after just mere months of writing faithfully. After a few episodes, we were in the top ten iTunes podcast charts every week. A literal dream come true.
After several months of podcasting, we began to search for sponsorships. Basically, a company would pay good money for a two minute ad spot in the middle of the podcast. The stipulation: The ad copy must be read and enthusiastically supported by the show host. That was me.
Our very first sponsorship offer was...unsavory. An online gambling site wanted to purchase ad time on our podcast. Remember, whatever sponsorship we agreed to, I would be required to endorse to thousands of people "on air."
I did not feel comfortable with this arrangement.
Typically, you don't turn down the first offer to make your show profitable, but I asked the site owner if we could pass on this and wait for another sponsor. At first he agreed, but when another offer did not come after several weeks, he became impatient.
I was presented with an ultimatum: accept the online gambling sponsorship or give up the show. One of the hardest decisions of my life, but I chose to give up the show. Not only that, I gave up the gig entirely. My dream had ended.
Two days after I resigned from that technology site, a second sponsor contacted me wanting to buy ad time. A sponsor I would have been glad to accept; but it was too late.
To be transparent, I have not had a similar opportunity since. I applied for other technology writing positions to no avail. I willingly gave it all up, where if I had just held on for two more days everything may have been different.
But in that time, I would have stamped my name on a product I did not personally support. I would have read ad copy on a podcast that would live on the Internet for years that endorsed a service I found disreputable. I did not want my name on that book cover.
Some may argue that was a big mistake, and I threw away a golden opportunity. But today I can be proud of my decision. There is still some regret, but I valued my name more than the gig.
Choosing between your name and a check is one thing, choosing between your name and a dream is excruciating. But, you cannot know the opportunities ahead that are now open because you kept your integrity. And you cannot know the opportunities that may have closed because you sold out.
In an age where information is at a surplus and it seems like everyone has similar or greater skills than you, trust becomes the most valuable resource. And in an economy of trust, character is your greatest asset.