My cousin was an entrepreneur all his life. And a very successful one. He lived his dash well, and he lived it with integrity.
The first time I heard the expression “living your dash” was at the memorial service for my mother-in-law. She was one of the lucky ones, as were those of us who knew her; her dash went between the dates 1906 and 2003! This expression was popularized by Linda Ellis’s poem The Dash; it provides a powerful metaphor for your life and helps us think about how our own dashes might be evaluated.
On my fridge I have an announcement of the passing fairly recently of my cousin, sorely missed. It includes his picture, smiling broadly and looking as handsome as ever, his dates (separated by his dash), and a poem by David Harkins that begins: “You can shed tears that he is gone, or you can smile that he has lived.” He would have loved that.
Both of these loved ones lived their dashes very well. Hopefully, all of us will have people saying this of us when it is our turn. I learned a lot from each of these people over the years. From my mother-in-law I learned everyday things, like how to make gravy, and lessons in acceptance by observing her quietly positive, proactive approach to life through many, many ups and downs. She also demonstrated by example that it’s never too late to learn or try new things.
From my cousin I learned something of what it was like to be an entrepreneur. And I learned the importance – and gratification – of contributing to your community. I also observed him demonstrating acceptance, understanding what he could change and what he couldn’t change. But what springs to mind every time I think of Alan is his integrity. He lived his life with integrity; he treated everyone he encountered as he would want to be treated and everyone knew that he would be true to his word. He genuinely liked people and it showed. Equally true, when there were unpleasant issues that had to be dealt with, he would take the principled approach that was needed, as difficult as it might be.
It strikes me that integrity may be the single most important quality to have for long-term success in business. Leading your life with integrity means that people can trust you – explicitly and consistently. You might be pleasant yet underhanded and get away with it for awhile, but inconsistent or unethical actions eventually catch up with you, and when they do, your reputation is damaged. Once gone, getting it back is easier said than done. People will always be on their guard with you.
Don’t get me wrong, you can’t be successful in business without a good product or service, good business skills, secure funding – the whole mix. But considering all the challenges an entrepreneur is likely to experience over a lifetime – things like ups and downs in the economy, changes in trends, changes in regulations, and problematic competition, it is the ability to count on people over the long term that makes the difference. By engaging with others with openness and consistency you develop the trust of customers, employees, partners, creditors, and the business community. Everyone, really.
Needless to say, integrity is key to all good relationships, whether at home, at work or in other social relationships. It makes life more pleasant for you and it’s good for business too! How can you go wrong? My cousin lived this philosophy. Thank you for this legacy, Alan.