Can You Earn a Million Dollars Honestly?

million dollars
Is Ben Franklin congratulating you or judging you?

You may have heard this quote from William Jennings Bryan, “No one can earn a million dollars honestly.” It’s quite a bold statement to make. Millionaires across the globe might take more offense to such an accusation…if only they weren’t already too busy enjoying their lavish vacations and  luxurious lifestyles. Joking aside, I wanted to dive a little deeper into the idea of whether or not you can earn a million dollars honestly. As a business owner and an aspiring millionaire (I can dream), I worry that such a big income carries an even bigger price tag. Must we compromise our values or risk selling ourselves short in pursuit of those six zeroes?

Earning a million dollars is something many of us will do over a lifetime. Spread out over years of work, it won’t make you a millionaire and – in this economy – it won’t afford you that stereotypical millionaire lifestyle either. My concern is that during our years of chasing after a healthy income, can we do so honestly or will we inevitably contradict some aspect of our business moral code? Here are two key instances in which I feel like though the money is “earned” it is not earned honestly.

Are you selling yourself short?

In an effort to sell as much as you can of your products, services or time, sometimes what you’re actually doing best is selling yourself short. You must always maintain a value for your time otherwise you risk giving it away for far too cheap or wasting it completely. For example, in an effort to gain a client, you may lower your prices. You may make that immediate sale, but you actually lose money in the long run with the opportunity cost of a future client that’s willing to pay you market value. I find this to be one of those instances in which the money earned here isn’t quite “honest.” Sure it’s in your bank account, but you’re left with a time deficit for what you’ve invested versus what you were paid. One way or another, you will have to reconcile this imbalance in your business ledger.

Are you doing a disservice to others?

I talked about selling ourselves short, but what about selling our clients short? This is another instance in which money is not quite earned honestly. For example, if you overcharge for your services, overbook your time or over promise your results all in an effort to earn a greater income, this is not money earned honestly. It is also a disservice to the client as much as it is to your business for they’re not likely to return to you in the future. You may have earned a small profit from them now, but in the long run you have missed out on a growing relationship and bigger opportunities.

I do believe that a million dollars (or more or less) can be earned honestly. But to do so, we must remain aware of the temptations that exist to cut corners or rush along the natural process of increasing our earning potential. This is no easy feat as dishonesty can be cleverly hidden or attractively wrapped inside good intentions. However, if we approach every decision and every client with the same level of integrity, we just might someday join the ranks of honest millionaires.