This post was first published by Meg in April of 2011.

My favorite professor once told me, “Ethics are a luxury,” meaning most people work because they have to. They don’t have the luxury of walking away when something happens they don’t think is right: shareholder dollars wasted due to inefficiencies; a promotion received due to office politics versus competence; decisions made out of ego and insecurity; the customers’ best interest willingly overlooked for profit; or a Faustian bargain for power.

When I was younger, I believed in an ideal that didn’t exist. I wanted to find the place where these things didn’t happen, where decisions were made in the customer’s best interest and employers were fair and honest with employees. My expectation was a work environment of open collaboration and everyone working towards a shared outcome. I didn’t think I could find fulfillment in a place that was anything less.

My expectations made it hard for me to parse out the difference between dissatisfaction with my work environment and dissatisfaction with the function of what I was doing. I couldn’t separate the job from the organization. So I searched, and searched some more, until I finally realized what I wanted, if it existed at all, was not an enduring reality.

I still work at separating out the two. Maturity makes it easier to maintain a realistic perspective, but my desire to exercise the luxury of ethics has never fully gone away. I’m not sure how I would feel if it did. Sometimes, integrity in what you do alone will have to be enough.