It’s Not About the Benjamins

Why Integrity is More Important than Money

I have made a lot of money over my relatively short career, I have also lost a lot of money and found myself scrambling back (on more than one occasion) from my least favorite holiday destination: Rock Bottom.   Working for myself since I was 23, I have had the pleasure in working in 15 countries, living in 6, meeting some of the most brilliant people in a wide range of industries. Over the years, I developed a passion for connecting with people that far outweighed my appreciation for the art of the deal.   As a management consultant and entrepreneur, I have done a few deals. $65 Million worth to be exact. Yet, I am not a millionaire. Not even close actually, I am a single mom that lives a relatively comfortable life but still needs to work to keep food on the table and maintain my not so lavish lifestyle. Puzzling? Perhaps.

I started making really good money within a year of graduating University and quickly found myself living a first class lifestyle – first class flights, hotels, restaurants, designer brands, and oh the parties. Life was one big party with a dash of work. When I lost it all after the crash, I had to re-build from the ground up.   Not just my bank account, but ME. I was lost. I got caught up in the lifestyle, I got caught up in chasing the next deal, trying to make more and more money that I could spend faster than I earned, and letting my ego rule my life instead of my common sense and compassion. Don’t get me wrong, I like nice things as much as the next person, but I learned that it is far more important to like the person you wake up as every day (and the person you wake up to, but that is another article!). Once you have the skills and personality traits to create wealth, you do not need to depend on other things or people, and your very definition of wealth changes. I also learned that surrounding yourself with the right people can create a lifetime of opportunities (ok, well at least a decade or two since I am not quite old enough to make such a bold statement). So, at the risk of losing the next big deal, I essentially chose to not lose myself.   It has been an interesting journey…

After two major recessions in 2000-2002 that killed my management consulting in tech and again in 2008 that rocked two of my own personal ventures in real estate and mobile tech plus a personal awakening that caused me to basically kill my second career phase in management consulting, I have to admit I was a little beat up. I felt like a failure, a loser, like some sort of weird karmic curse reared its ugly head to take me down once and for all.   But as a descendent from a very long list of survivors, I had no choice but to get back up and refocus. What I realized was maybe this karmic curse was actually a karmic slap in the face to keep me focused on what really matters. So, instead of being defeated spiritually and financially – I decided to try and decipher the lessons of over a fifteen years of experiences.

Lesson One: Forget About the Money and Do What You Love

Even though I started fast out of the gate and began making a lot of money and living a rock star life, I hated what I was doing. I didn’t like most of the people I was working with and did not at all like who I became. Most people spend more time working than they do with their families or socializing, so find something that is enjoyable – even if it doesn’t rake in the big bucks. And truth be told, if you find something you truly love, the wealth will come. Maybe not in the form you expect it (ie. Cold hard cash), but perhaps in other areas – more time, more freedom, flexibility, security, and the simple joy of getting up every day excited.

Lesson Two: Surround Yourself with People Much Smarter than You.

Seek inspiration and encouragement from people who have been there and done that. Don’t assume this list only includes the wealthy or educated. But it should include people who are well-traveled, have been through both failure and success, and who see the value in sharing their life experiences to pay it forward. There is an opportunity to learn from every experience and most people you come across, but you need a couple solid people who can serve as an inspiration, if not a mentor.

Lesson Three: Trust your Gut

This goes for anything in life, but if it doesn’t “feel” right, it probably isn’t. I knew certain deals were going to end badly from the moment I got involved. So, why would I keep moving ahead? Money, money, money. You always know when a deal doesn’t feel right. Sometimes it is just the deal, sometimes it is the principals, others it is that unknown factor – a nagging feeling creating doubt and suspicion. Whatever it is, acknowledge it and start thinking of the reasons you should NOT do the deal – often the reasons you should are fairly apparent.

Lesson Four: People are Worth More than Money.

Money comes and goes, but build the right network of people in your life and you will be always be rich. Create a network of friends that share common values and truly understand that money isn’t everything, otherwise you risk being tossed to the side when the choice arises between you or the deal. There is always another deal, always a way to make money, but finding solid people in a world full of ego and greed is a tall order so when you find good people, hang on to them! Trust me, it makes enjoying those celebrations of success so much sweeter when you are surrounded by people you genuinely care about and who have your back. Particularly when the alternative is the guy (or girl) who is riding on your coattails, or the one that slags you when you are not around to boost themselves up, or the one scheming to steal from you. Let them have it – then walk away. You have better things to worry about.

Lesson Five: Integrity is Everything.

While honesty is considered a key part of integrity, my experience is that honesty can be relative. Another person’s truth may not be the same as your truth – hence the saying “there is his story, my story and the truth somewhere in the middle”. Integrity on the other hand means consistently doing the right thing in every situation, regardless of the consequences. It is rooted in the Latin word for whole and is the definition of how you as a person conduct yourself as a whole in this world. It is impossible to please everybody, just as it is impossible to like everybody, but if you always act from a place of sincerity that is in alignment with your beliefs and a strong moral compass – then you are on a good path. To have integrity requires humility, consistency, authenticity and an ability to take ownership for all one’s actions – even if you or someone else got a raw deal. If you have integrity, nothing else really matters – even money.

In my time on this crazy life roller coaster, I can say with confidence that I am a little smarter, a lot simpler and eternally grateful for the experiences. I love what I do, I have integrity and I am blessed by some incredible people around me as both mentors and peers. And yes, the money has followed. In a completely different way and much slower than I ever imagined, but with so much more appreciation than I would have had without these bumps along the way.

Submitted by Jennifer Koster start-up strategist turned entrepreneur, writer and single mama. Jennifer is a partner in Scala Construction Inc (, a high end residential construction company catering to celebrities and entertainment executives, founder of idealight Inc. ( a management consultancy working with start-up companies on strategy, fundraising and international expansion, and a partner in Type A Group (, a company that provides leadership tools for individuals to achieve abundance in work, love and life. She is currently writing a book called “The Truth About Baggage” – an exploration into the various kinds of baggage we pick up through life, how it manifests itself and prevents us from getting what you want, and how to get rid of it so you can.


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