Celebrating Achievement and the Nobility of Business

Yesterday we celebrated Labor Day, a holiday created to honor the social and economic achievements of our country’s workforce. A tribute to the success we’ve enjoyed as a country, due to the hard work of those before us. What better time to think about what it means to be in business and be proud of the work you do.

Yet, even as we celebrate the achievements of hard work on this 126-year-old holiday, many in our society continue to vilify some of the very qualities that helped our country get to where it is today. I might find it entertaining to read some of the opinions out there if they did not sadden me and cause concern about our future.

The Huffington Post contributor Les Leopold’s take on the holiday is a perfect example of this mindset with thoughts like “… our hard work is being siphoned into the coffers of Wall Street. Perhaps in honor of labor day we should remind ourselves of how we are being robbed blind.” The article goes on to lay the case for how the financial sector recklessly took on too much risk, all while experiencing much higher pay increases than the rest of the country. He talks about TARP and the size of the banks today and then concludes:

“This colossal rip-off won’t be fixed on its own. No magic market forces will tame rising Wall Street-created inequality. No fairy-tale return to the gold standard will rectify the power imbalance between Wall Street and the rest of us. It will take enormous struggles by and for all working people to reverse these incredible injustices.

“Hats off to the fast food workers lighting the way with their strikes for a modicum of justice for low-wage workers. Each and every low-wage worker knows what it means to be “working for the man.” Sooner or later we’ll realize that all of us are working for the man on Wall Street, and maybe then we’ll join our fast food brothers and sisters and head to the streets in the name of justice.”

This kind of thinking embodies the overarching trend in society and media that disturbs me. Take a nugget of truth and pervert it to engender a sense of contention and dissatisfaction in the general public.

It seems like I’m always reading articles about excessive corporate profits, or how greed is driving corporations to take advantage of the public. Les Leopold closed his Huffington Post article with a mention of the fast food workers’ strike. US News and World Report blog contributor Brad Bannon’s article on the subject, A Strike Against Corporate Greedmirrors this same misinformed belief.

Hollywood also reflects this perception. The Corporate Executive is almost always portrayed as the villain of the movie. Corporations in movies typically operate with the sole intent to rape and pillage society for their own profit.

Don’t Be Fooled

I believe our country is structured to reward anyone willing to put in the time and effort to hone a skill or a service, take some risk, work hard, and aim to add value or serve others.

We can always point fingers, find bad apples, and look at what someone else has or does and complain. But, for the general population, I still believe that making money fundamentally means helping others. For almost everyone, wealth is a measure of how much value you add to the people around you.

We must believe that being in business is a noble endeavor. The foundation of a successful business rests on the principle that you must serve others and do so with integrity and character. People don’t do business with those they don’t trust. Transactions only occur when both parties consent.

Remember that being in business is about giving, not taking. Society might depict business as if winners take from losers, but this is not a zero sum game. Remember transactions are always bi-lateral agreements. Each party wins.

The Better Approach

Believe in what you do. Your profession, your career, or even the way you pursue your temporary job can be viewed as a business. If you are working at McDonalds, you can operate as if you’re in business for yourself. Serve like it matters. Go the extra mile. Perform regardless of the credit. Do what’s right without being told. Deliver results. You will see the benefit.

As you embrace your profession, try to narrow the gap between the personal you and the professional you. Share your story with your friends and be proud of your work. You never know when that kind of networking might lead to new opportunity. The more transparent you can be, the easier it will be for you to make meaningful connections. Connections lead to greater opportunities to serve.

Believe in the morality of what you do. If you think what you sell or the company you work for is fundamentally violating your morals, you need to leave and find another job. You are not desperate enough to contribute effort to a cause that violates your morals. Plus, when your heart is not in it, success is far more difficult.

There are organizations out there that operate on a platform of deceit in order to take advantage of the public. They will come and go. Never will a business model of deceit last. Be smart with where you spend your money and don’t let conspiracy theorists cast unnecessary worry.

If you are protesting or feel like you want to protest for higher wages, then go for it. My opinion is that as long as there are others out there hungry for the chance to take your job and do it well for the same or less money, you will struggle to win that negotiation. Instead, maybe your time will be better spent finding a better way to serve others. Invest in yourself by improving your education, attitude, or and your mindset. There may be sacrifice involved, but if your situation is THAT dire, temporary sacrifice of time or material possessions is in order. We are talking about your livelihood here, so take control and change something.

In the end, if you live in America, you have control over your own success. Some have it easier than others, but rather than worrying or complaining about other successful people, try and focus on ways to better your own situation. Be mindful of those who aim to fuel fear and generate strife among people. When business or Corporate America is depicted as evil, be mindful and remember the fundamental nature of business in America is typically quite different.