Something just about all of us consider at some point in our lives is our legacy, be it on a small scale such as a job or project, or our life's work. Nagging questions linger, "How will I be remembered?", "Did I do a good job?" or "Was my life well spent?" Some people believe we are judged by physical objects such as a building we constructed, the development of some object, or perhaps an invention. Others consider our impact on productivity and prosperity through such things as leadership, organization, and systems. The fallacy here is that buildings and products inevitably deteriorate, processes and inventions evolve and are replaced, so notoriety for such things is fleeting. To compound the problem, we have no real sense of history and quickly forget who did what years ago.
I contend we are not measured by inanimate objects, but by animate ones instead. It is how we influence others that is perhaps most important, be it our relatives, our coworkers, our customers or whatever. If we can set an example or motivate someone to excel beyond their capabilities, to grow and evolve, then we have accomplished something rather monumental. This is probably what motivates teachers. For example, Helen Keller's work positively impacted people with disabilities around the world, yet had it not been for her teacher, Anne Sullivan, it would never have happened. Thomas Edison is well remembered not only for the inventions he created, but the companies he founded, including General Electric which does business around the world. All of this may never have happened without the influence of his mother, Nancy, who encouraged and home schooled him. Let us also not forget Aristotle's influence on Alexander the Great who significantly influenced the cultures of Europe, Asia and Africa.
We are ultimately defined by the decisions we make and actions we take, both good and bad. It is the consistency by which we apply these actions and decisions that defines our character. Greatness is measured by a person's ability to move the masses towards a major goal. There are several fine examples strewn throughout history, such as the ancient Greeks (e.g., Plato, Socrates, etc.); political leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, King Henry VIII, Joan of Arc, Winston Churchill, and Emperor Meiji of Japan, and; religious figures such as Jesus, Confucius, and Mohammed. Interestingly, all were effective communicators.
The point is, we all have a profound effect on others, be it in a positive or negative light. It is when we can get others to aspire and achieve that we have really written our own legacy.
As to my own personal legacy, I believe I have done some good things in terms of information systems theory, and have helped clean up a lot of messes for customers who I have consulted with over the years, as well as the organizations I have participated in. This is all well and good, but beyond this I hope I will be remembered as someone who...
* Challenged people to use their brains, to think, and not to go on autopilot.
* Encouraged people to try new ideas, to think outside of the box.
* Warned people of the dangers of complacency and apathy.
* Admonished others to appreciate their heritage yet grow, evolve, and adapt.
* Preached leading an honorable and worthwhile life.
If I have done this, than I feel my time was well spent.
Our legacy is what we give of ourselves. We can give money, we can volunteer our time, we can invent and design new things, but I believe we really affect people when we shape their perspectives and thinking processes. Thereby our legacy is whatever we want it to be; we write it ourselves, either by doing nothing or helping others find their way.
I've told you what I hope my legacy will be; what's yours?
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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