Archive for the ‘Influence’ Category

What is Your Legacy?

Posted: February 16, 2014 in Influence
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ripplesI’ve had two occasions in the past two days to consider the answer to the question “What is your legacy?”

The first was at the 90th birthday party of a dear lady at my church on Saturday. The kind words and testimonies shared about her life of kindness, graciousness, giving and faith caused me to ponder what might be said (or not said) about me in such a situation. It was a time not only to honor a saintly woman, but to personally reflect on one’s own legacy.

The second was at a luncheon today for some of us who have committed to leaving part of our estate to our church when we pass from this life to the next. It is an annual luncheon where we are reminded of the work to be done and of the ways in which we can not only serve our Lord here and now but plan to help provide for work to be done long after we’re gone. The leader of the luncheon asked simply, “What is your legacy?”

Legacies come in different forms, both tangible and intangible. Where and how we invest our lives affects what (if any) legacy remains.

Our lives are invested in many different and sometimes unrelated areas. We devote much time, for example, to our work lives – more waking hours typically than any other single endeavor. It is right and good to care about the professional legacy we leave behind. With probably about ten years left in my professional career, I am aware of the career countdown clock ticking away in the background and I am working diligently to make a difference in my profession outside the walls of my employer. What will that impact be? I don’t know, but I’m doing my best to advance the field in the time I have left to impact it.

Additionally, we live in relationship with others – family, friends, neighbors, coworkers – and have countless opportunities for legacies of the heart and soul. As parents, we are the single most important influence in the developing lives of the children we bring into the world. What will be their first thoughts of us when we are a memory? How we choose to relate to a spouse will impact not just the externals of life together, but how that person feels about himself/herself the rest of their lives. Is that impact one for which they will be forever grateful or one which they may regret? Will neighbors speak fondly of you to future neighbors? Will they even know or care that you’re gone? Will coworkers think of you more than merely someone who did a job that another could easily assume in your absence?

Many of us invest in other volunteer efforts in order to make a difference in some small way in various pockets of influence around our passions and interests. (At least I hope we choose to spend some free time serving others and not always in pursuit of our own self-serving interests.) For whom will that time be given and what might be the ripple effect?

Others will have to answer the question one day as to what our legacy is. We can’t completely control that, but we can certainly influence it. It helps to have an idea of what you’d like to to be.

When others think of me, I would rather they remember me as kind more than angry, as giving more than taking, as funny more than somber, as loving more than judgmental, as reliable more than unpredictable, as generous more than stingy, as positive more than negative, as listening more than talking, as encouraging more than condemning, as thoughtful more than haphazard, and as faithful rather than hypocritical. I’d like to be worth remembering with a smile.

I have a long way to go.

I don’t believe too much in coincidences. For two unrelated and out-of-the-ordinary events in two days to bring the thought of one’s legacy to mind means either that other forces were at work to cause me to focus on this subject for two days, or that my heart was just in the right spot to ponder the question at this time. Either way, the question is a good one to ponder, worthy of the time one gives it.

What is your legacy?

ripplesI enjoy watching the television show Criminal Minds. Besides the stories, the characters, and the drama, I like the quotes that are scattered throughout the episodes. The quotes allow for some deeper thought beyond the mere entertainment of the show.

While watching an episode recently, they quoted the following by Chuck Palahniuk: “We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.” I thought that was particularly thought-provoking.

Let’s take the quote apart:

We all die. True enough. Regardless of what you believe about life after death, surely we can agree that there will come a time in which the bodies we now inhabit will breathe their final breath. We don’t know when that will be. We usually hope that it’s far into the future, but it could be today. What we know is that it will happen.

The goal isn’t to live forever. This may not be as universally true as the first statement. It seems that some do whatever they can to cheat death. Each generation searches for its own version of a fountain of youth in the form of medical or technological advances in hopes of delaying the inevitable. That’s understandable given our instinctive will to survive. Cryonics, for example, is “the low-temperature preservation of humans who cannot be sustained by contemporary medicine, with the hope that healing and resuscitation may be possible in the future” (Wikipedia). Those not choosing such costly, extreme measures of preservation may still attempt other procedures to make themselves look younger than they are as long as possible – a far more common occurrence.

The goal is to create something that will. This gets to the heart of significance. It’s nice to believe that you make a difference in the present to others and to the world around you in some way. It is a far different thing to work for something that outlives you. For some, that may be children and younger generations you influence. For others, it may be some grand cause that creates positive change in society. Yet others (myself included) will consider the work related to religious faith as the only real candidate to make an impact that can truly last forever.

Another quote that comes to mind on the topic of purpose as I consider the above quote is one by Mark Twain: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” I suspect that for most readers, part of the answer to why you were born has to do with the continuing impact your life may have on others after you’re gone. What ripple effect will your life have?

I don’t have any fantasy about this body living forever. I do hope, though, that the God who is eternal will use me in some small way to make a difference in a few lives that does, indeed, last forever.

Who inspires you?  I was reminded on a very long run today that inspiration can come from a variety of sources, some of them very unexpected.

While on my longest run of the year today – a little more than a half-marathon distance at 13.33 miles – I could not help but think of the chubby 12-year-old boy, Nathan, currently highlighted in a Nike commercial about greatness.  In the commercial, the boy keeps running toward the camera as the narrator talks about greatness.  I can’t tell you how many times today on my run I thought of that boy when I would get to a very tired point and wanted to stop.  Today, Nathan was an inspiration to me.

Also while running at a nearby park today, a large group of Marines was there for a long time going through various drills.  At one point they left their workouts on the interior of the track loop and ran once around the loop, passing me by.  One of the leaders was wearing a shirt that read on the back “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”  So not only did I have a chubby 12-year-old to nudge me to keep running, but I had a whole slew of fit, enthusiastic Marines going through drills I could never complete as an encouragement to keep going.

I don’t know if you run or not, but I’m sure you still have people who inspire you.  For physical feats, people who inspire don’t have to be Olympic gold medalists.  They can be quite ordinary.  For other types of inspiration – models of character, kindness, work ethic, generosity, learning, talent and a host of other areas – people who inspire you can come from all walks of life, backgrounds and experiences.

That means that you, too, may be an inspiration to others.  Are you?

Leap year lesson #220 is Anyone can be an inspiration to others.

In the late 1990s I was the training manager for two Kentucky locations of an international computer training company.  I had a little over 20 trainers reporting to me.  It was a good experience and I think I did a good job representing the needs of the trainers to management and representing the needs of the management and business to the trainers.  I had good relationships with everyone.  I left that role feeling good about what I had done there.

In my current role, I have nobody that reports to me.  I don’t really aspire to management, although I’d consider it if asked.  I love what I do and it isn’t arrogant to say that I know I’m good at it.

Does the difference in people reporting to me mean I have less influence in my current role managing nobody compared to the previous company where I managed over 20 people?  No.  Not by a long shot.  The reality is that my current role as community manager for a 20,000 member online community gives me the opportunity for great influence and the responsibility that goes along with that.

Perhaps some in the community see me as having positional power within the community, and I suppose they are correct.  But far more important to me is to be a positive influence that helps people cooperate, collaborate and connect together in ways that benefit both them and the business.  I don’t care much about having power.  I do care about having influence.

When you look back on the people that have been most influential in your life outside the obvious family members, chances are pretty good that the ones with the greatest impact have not been in positions of great power, but rather they have been influential in other ways.  The good news is that everyone has the ability to be a positive influence on others regardless of the position they hold in their work or community.  Such influence is earned through trust and demonstrating expertise, wisdom and good judgment over time.

Leap year lesson #210 is Choose influence over power.

This will be a morbid post for some, but for me, it’s a reality check.

On many of my trips back home to Winchester, Kentucky I take a few minutes to privately visit the graves of family members.  I stop in front of each grave and either silently or audibly say a few thoughts of gratitude for that person.  It’s a good opportunity to relive fond memories and anticipate future ones.

After a little while of visiting the graves of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a nephew, a brother I never met and a sister lost way too soon, I walk over to a nearby area with no graves (pictured here).  It has no graves yet because it contains the plots my wife and I purchased 30 years ago for ourselves.

While standing in the section where I will be buried, my thoughts change from the past to the future.  I hope I have decades left to work and play and love and make a difference.  But I am not guaranteed another day on this earth.  Neither are you.

Some avoid thinking about such a reality.  Some respond by living hedonistic lives grabbing what they can before they’re forced to let it go.  I choose to stand on that empty ground and pray for wisdom in how to make a positive difference in the lives of my family, friends, work and church with however much time I am granted in the future.  I pray that I put aside past sins and bad choices that interfered with making as big a difference in the past as I might have made otherwise.

I’m long past the time of life when I’m trying to be successful as most would define success.  It’s time to be significant instead, focusing on the positive difference I can make in the world and in the lives of others.

Leap year lesson #127 is You don’t have forever to make a difference.  So you’d better now start if you haven’t already.