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Finding My Line in the Sand

Last week I had a very enlightening experience.

The short story is that I was offered a writing job that I turned down.

The long story is that what the company was asking me to do didn’t jive well with what I call my “internal moral code.”

Basically, it all started when I saw a job posting for a freelance writer who specializes in academic papers.

While I do not specialize in this type of writing, I felt like all the “A’s” I still remember receiving for high school and college essay assignments indicated I might still have the chops to pull it off.

Plus the pay was pretty good.

So I applied for it and got the job.

After I got the job, I started the training process and quickly began to question what I was really doing.

After taking a closer look at the company’s website (something I absolutely admit I should have done before applying!), I realized my job was basically to write academic papers for high school, college and graduate students – including med school students – to use in their academic studies.

Ooooooo. Or, I should say, ewwwwwwww.

So I talked to my dad about it. I described the job and watched his expression change. His expression mirrored the changes going on in my stomach as I processed the idea of helping students cheat their way through their classes.

Then I did some research online to see how companies like this one (and there are many around the world, I discovered) can legally do what they are doing.

Their defense is a good one – they say they are just providing the papers to help the students (who are ordering and paying for them) generate creative ideas and do some advance research.

But the extensive testimonials from student-customers crowing over the A’s these papers have earned them beg to differ.

At last I realized that, however legal (or not) the service may be, it simply didn’t sit right with me. It just didn’t. I wiggled and squirmed and squished myself up in all manner of ways, and I still couldn’t see myself writing one. single. paper. for this company.


At that point I extricated myself as politely and expeditiously as I could.

But this whole experience has led me to question how our individual and respective “lines in the sand” get drawn.

What if, for example, I had been raised in a culture that actually embraces “getting away with something” or skirting “the system?”

What if my folks had valued the grey areas of life above the white (good) and black (bad) and encouraged me to dive into the grey and go exploring?

What if my mentors had actively modeled methods for doing the least work possible and getting the most results? 

What if I had (er) earned my degree by getting others to do my work for me?

Or what if I believed that, in spite of the testimonials to the contrary, my work would be used for internal research purposes only?

How would that change where my line in the sand currently resides?

I would imagine it would change it a lot. I would imagine my line would exist in a whole different location within me.

Over the years I have heard many different theories about what is called “moral development” and how it takes shape inside each individual.

My favorite theory is one I don’t know the name for, but at the beginning, the individual’s morality is overwhelmingly dictated by the threat of punishment.

As the individual grows, they eventually reach a stage where even the threat of punishment won’t deter them from doing what they internally feel is “right” (this sense of right/wrong being unique to that person and perhaps nothing like what right/wrong looks like to someone else).

I’m not sure where my current moral code is situated (although I suspect it is closer to the internal than the external end of the spectrum).

But I do know how it feels inside when I “get away with something,” and mostly it never feels nearly as good as I assumed it would.

It feels like cheating. It feels like not doing my best.

It feels like constantly looking over my shoulder waiting to get caught and shamed and tarred and feathered and made an example out of.

It feels like I cheated myself more than anyone else by doing what I did.

It feels like – what was the point of struggling all those years to recover from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety only to then use this life I fought like a dog to hold onto for purposes I don’t agree with?

So I don’t really want to be a part of facilitating these same experiences in others, even if those others may have an entirely different line in the sand than I do, and even if their line in the sand is in total disagreement with my own.

Today’s Takeaway: Where is your “line in the sand?” Do you have any insights or theories about how your internal moral code developed – or how anyone’s internal moral code develops? What do you think of the job I turned down – would you have taken it and why or why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Writing in the sand photo available from Shutterstock

Finding My Line in the Sand

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2015). Finding My Line in the Sand. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 Sep 2015
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