I can get pretty specific about what acting with integrity means for myself, but I can’t make anything clearer than a sketch of integrity on the whole. An instruction manual to staying on the safe side of the hustler/sellout line would require an encyclopedic knowledge of every person, every thought & every intention ever. I am totally incapable of making that manual. That said, I can offer up my personal manual with some blanks for you to fill in.
Set your own goals
Set yourself a code of ethics that you will follow in pursuit of said goals. Write a personal mission statement and a list of acceptable/unacceptable tactics. It might evolve; you might even rewrite it on the daily, but it’s useful to have some lines to color inside. Put any method that’s ideal in your code of ethics, and make a “Stay Away” section for any behavior that’s totally off limits
Figure out what achieving your goals looks like
Draw yourself a picture of success (not a literal picture – a list works fine).
Be dogged in the pursuit of your goals
Remind yourself of what they are. If you follow your intentionally laid out dreams, it’s pretty hard to veer off track. Measure yourself against these standards, and remind yourself that these are your standards when in doubt (or even when you’re doing fine).
Prioritize your tasks according to your standards
Your goal might well be to get 1K likes on each post & only to post beautiful photographs. Sometimes, you can’t do both, so when something has to give, make it be the task that’s furthest from your mission statement. That’s the smaller sacrifice. Remind yourself that the beauty of your photographs matters more to you.
Be as picky as you can afford to be
Pickiness equals high standards, and high standards are a pretty direct path to quality & to contentment. Of course “afford” can mean different things & if Instagram is your career, it might mean literally afford to be. If pimping a detox tea is what keeps you from being homeless, I won’t say not to do it. Trust your taste. Work with people you LIKE. Take on projects that you LIKE.
Get in touch with brands/influencers you admire
Beg them to answer some of your questions. They might have something to say about selling out, where they’ve drawn their lines, or be able to alert you to morally questionable situations that might arise.
Rehearse your “no thank you”s & your “I’ll get back to you”s & your “that would be a dream”s. All opportunities are exciting when you’re starting out, so exciting that you might get ahead of yourself and say something you don’t mean or agree to some terrible proposition. One way to avoid this is by bottling a few responses for my yes/no/maybes. Preparation! It helps to know what could be coming.
Check in with yourself
At the end of the day, week, project, & review of your time. You might already be good at evaluating certain metrics like efficiency, social reach or money made. You might be less good at checking in with your integrity. Keep these questions focused on the integrity of your experience. Look back & let this guide you. Was this fun for me? Am I proud of what I did/made? Was I creative? Is this stimulating? Was this challenging? Was this inspiring? Did my work contribute to my big G Goals? Do I want to have more days/weeks/projects like this? If you have a lot of yeses, you’re probably doing fine. Are you doing what you said you do? Do you still care about what you said you’d do?
If for some reason you can’t, tell your collaborator &/or yourself why. This is called communication.
Happy creating, people.