Posts Tagged ‘Influence’

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.

Jason and TreeAsk me what the ROI of social media is for me personally, and I’ll tell you that it was $10,000 for me this week.  Why?  Because of what happened related to the 150-year-old, 14.5 foot circumference tree in our back yard, shown here with my son, Jason, giving it one last hug before we have to cut it down in a few days.  Actually, it was my friends via social media that saved me the money – not social media itself which was the vehicle of communication that made it all possible.

Here’s what happened…

We had a storm come through several nights ago that took out a major section of the tree, fortunately falling away from the house and only doing minor damage to the garage and garden.  Upon inspection by the arborist, though, it was discovered that the tree is not in good health.  With the major limb gone, you could step down into the center of the tree nearly waist high.  The squirrels had been living in style up there for some while, lining their tree house with plastic and even a t-shirt they stole from someone, but we had no idea about the extent of the interior damage until the gaping hole of a missing 25-inch-diameter limb revealed it.  We hoped to never see the day when we had to remove such a natural masterpiece, but there was no avoiding it upon inspection.

We’ve used the same outstanding, trustworthy, yet expensive arborist for the 25 years we’ve lived in this house.  Taking care of the tree with regular grooming and care was something we willingly did for the past quarter century – a mere one-sixth of the tree’s time on this earth.  (I guess that puts its origins somewhere around the presidency of Abraham Lincoln.)  We got an unofficial ballpark estimate from our usual arborist on removing the tree when he was here removing the downed limb.  I was quite stunned at the approximate $6000 price tag to remove the whole tree!  I wasn’t prepared for that.

I didn’t mind paying top dollar for proper care of a tree to extend its life, but I wasn’t about to hand over $6000 to cut one down without competitive bids.  The problem?  I have no firsthand knowledge of any other company in town and could easily make a very bad decision we might regret.

Enter social media.

Tree LimbI posted a pic of the downed limb on Facebook and a note about having to remove the tree along with the current bid we had.  I didn’t ask others for referrals.  In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that it didn’t even occur to me at that point to do so.  Yet, my network of friends took over and started posting publicly, privately and sending me text messages of companies they had successfully used and highly recommended.  My wife, Linda, did some Better Business Bureau research on all the names and narrowed it to three possible, reputable companies.

Here comes the unbelievable part.  The bids on removing the monster tree ranged form a low of $3200 to a high of nearly $12,000!  That’s a crazy disparity.  Want to know the funny part?  The highest bidder was also going to take down part of our backyard fence to get his equipment there and was not going to put the fence back up!  Thanks, but no thanks.

We actually got two bids from each company – one just for the backyard tree and one that also included a very large 70-year-old oak in our front yard that has been falling apart little by little annually and isn’t safe, either.  The bids for taking down both trees ranged from $6000 to $16,000 – a stunning difference.

We ended up going with the lowest bidder.  Could something go wrong?  Sure.  Could we end up regretting our decision?  Possibly, but not likely.  We’re confident we made the right choice and it wasn’t made solely on price.  I’ll let you know if we learn otherwise.

Without social media, I may never have known about the company we’re using.  I may have asked a few close friends for recommendations, but no network of hundreds of people would’ve known about my need without social media.  And the best thing about it was that I didn’t even ask for help.  I just posted the situation and the info started pouring in.

This is the reality of how social media works today.  People do not simply go to the companies selling products and services and make an isolated decision based only on info provided by those doing the selling.  We have public conversations in our personal networks and those conversations influence our buying decisions.  Companies that understand that will choose to be a part of the conversations, helping to influence them and earning the right to be chosen.  Companies who don’t get it will continue to mistakenly think that their marketing message is the one the people listen to the most.  It isn’t.  We care more about the opinion and recommendations of our friends than we do about what we hear from businesses.

What is the ROI of social media?  For me personally this week, it’s $10,000.  Who knows what next week will bring?

Little Things CountHow do you choose to make a difference in the lives of others?  Do you think you can make such a difference?  Do you wish you could do more?  Do you think that what you do is of little significance?

Many people, myself included, want to make a positive difference in the world.  Most don’t have a large, public stage from which to perform such acts.  Most don’t have substantial financial resources to directly impact the welfare of those less fortunate.  Most don’t hold positions of power from which they can command the use of others’ time, energy and resources to accomplish what they want.  So does that mean each of us is relegated to having an insignificant impact that lasts for only a moment and affects very few others?  I don’t think so.

A couple of related thoughts come to mind when pondering this subject.  The first has to do with our definitions of success and significance.  The second relates to our awareness (or lack thereof) of the impact we have on others.

As for success vs. significance, our American culture attempts to define success in terms of how much money we make, how many possessions we have, how much power we wield, the kind and level of job we hold, what our home looks like, etc.  We mathematically categorize people as upper class, middle class, or lower class.

If you are in the trap of defining success that way, take a moment and think about some of the most important people in your past, those who had the most influence on you, those who taught you the most and helped shaped you into the person you are.  Think about the ways you have incorporated the lessons learned from those people into your life and how you have passed on those same lessons to others.  Now think back to the material circumstances of those influential people who came to mind.  Were they financially wealthy?  Were they the ones running huge corporations or in charge of millions or billions of dollars annually?  Were they well-known public officials?  Probably not (although they could be).  Instead, they were more likely parents, teachers, grandparents, friends or mentors who cared about you, noticed you, and gave generously of themselves to enrich your life.  Were they successful as culture defines success?  Maybe, maybe not.  But were they significant?  You bet they were!

We have to start making a clear distinction between culturally defined “success” and true “significance.”  Do a quick Amazon search on the word pair “success significance” and you’ll turn up several resources that distinguish between the two.  Ultimately, you are the one who must determine the definitions of success and significance by which you measure the impact of your life (i.e., if you measure it, which I don’t recommend trying).  For me, success was long ago defined by the book Success, Motivation, and the Scriptures by William H. Cook where I came away with the definition: “Success is doing what God wants you to do in the way He wants you to do it.”  Therefore, I am fulfilling my purpose and am successful if I live up to that definition.  I have to trust that significance is an outcome, whether I see or know about the results or not.

The beauty of that definition of success is that it potentially applies to any act, big or small.  Success might be facilitated by a public platform with the chance to speak to and influence many others.  But it also comes in simple one-to-one compassion shown for another, performing an act of kindness that enriches another’s life, having private conversation where you listen more than you talk, making sure that when you do talk, the words are worth the time others are taking to hear them.

I’m not discounting the value of the public, large-scale opportunities to make a difference.  We should take advantage of those whenever possible.  I want us to understand, though, that success and significance can also come through seemingly small things that have little or no audience.

When reading through the Old Testament book of 1 Chronicles recently, I was struck by the reference in 9:31 to Mattithiah, one of the Levites, listed as being in charge of making the flat cakes.   Here in this chapter discussing the genealogy of returned exiles is recorded for all time a man who carried out his service daily making flat cakes.  In his world at the time, he was probably unnoticed by most.  He sought no fame or fortune.  He fulfilled his duty day in and day out.  He made flat cakes.  And now 2500 years later we read about him.  Mattithiah would have liked the definition of success above – doing what God wants you to do in the way He wants you to do it.  He was successful, and he was significant.  Acts of seemingly little significance are necessary, and are noticed and appreciated by God and others.

As we browse the Bible, there are so many additional reminders of the importance of doing the little things with the right attitude and motive, confident that they matter in the grand scheme of things to the only One who is worthy of judging:

  • “…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” – Mark 10:43-44
  • “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me” – Philippians 4:11-13
  • “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” – Colossians 3:17.
  • “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” – Psalm 84:10.

The Bible’s definition and description of success is light years away from our culture’s.

As for our awareness (or lack thereof) of the impact we have on others, we simply don’t know the impact we have because we can’t be all places at all times.  There is a potential ripple effect of our actions and attitudes on the lives of others that we will never witness or hear about.  People that influenced me were influenced by others I may never have known, and those strangers were influenced by others I have never heard of who were born in another place and time.  In a sense, we are with our lives throwing a pebble in a pond and turning to walk away before we have the chance to observe the ripples and how far they extend.  It isn’t our job to study the ripples, though.  It is our role to toss the pebble.

I’ve had wonderful opportunities in my life through my work, through travel, through meeting people of different backgrounds, and through great relationships with family and friends.  I’m open to whatever platform from which I can make a difference, big or small.  At work I am content not to be a manager, although I’ve managed teams in the past and had success with it.  I’d be content being the Wal-Mart greeter who says hello and offers you a shopping cart.  At church, I’ve taught classes more often than not over the past 40+ years, and I’ve had plenty of opportunities to preach to congregations.  But the truth is that I’m just as content to serve by providing Christian literature and resources weekly or by making coffee early enough so it’s ready when others arrive.

Don’t let a twisted culture define success or significance for you.  Realize that significance can happen one person and one small act at a time.  Going that extra step to help someone at work or home, seeing to the laborious and unheralded tasks others don’t want to do, noticing the people and circumstances that others pass by in their daily rush and taking time to invest in them in some small way – these are the kinds of acts by which others will measure your success and significance.  They will carry those ripples into the lives of others.

Little things count.

ElephantintheRoom-Leo_CullumHow many times have you been in a conversation with others and wanted to bring up some obvious topic, but failed to do so?  How many times have you sat in meetings, heard proposals, watched presentations, discussed important matters, or been embarrassed on behalf of someone else, all the while dying to say what is really on your mind, but never mustering the courage to say it?  Why do we hold back and so often fail to acknowledge the elephant in the room?

In the case of meetings at work, perhaps you can’t bring yourself to openly disagree with someone higher up the org chart.  Maybe you are the kind of person who avoids conflict at all cost, both in personal and professional settings.  Maybe you fear the known or unknown consequences of being that person to bring up what you and probably many others wish someone would address.

If you don’t acknowledge obvious issues, it is very possible that the consequences of failing to address them will be worse than doing so.  For example, if you have relationship issues with someone, but try to keep the peace instead of putting matters on the table, aren’t the potential emotional and physical consequences of holding it all inside worse than the temporary awkwardness and unpleasantness of the dreaded conversation?  If you are being pitched a plan of action by a manager or someone higher up than you in an organization, and you know that the suggested path has major flaws, aren’t you complicit in failed and potentially harmful business decisions if you do not raise the concerns you have?  If others are trying to get you to go down some path that could be dangerous or have serious negative consequences personally and/or professionally, don’t you have the responsibility to listen to your intuition and interject a cautionary word into the conversation?  If someone’s dress, hygiene, personal habits or behavior are the subject of much discussion behind his/her back, isn’t the decent thing to do to have that needed and difficult private conversation in order to help the other person?

When it comes to acknowledging elephants in the room, few seem willing to be the one to step up and do so.  Oh, how we need more people willing to take that step!  Doing this doesn’t mean you have to do so in an unkind, harsh, abrasive, offensive way.  Besides, you won’t likely succeed in promoting positive change with that approach, anyway.  Instead, with a genuine heart of compassion, caring, and concern for what is wrong or what might fail, you have an incredible opportunity to change the path of a person, group, or entire company from darkness to light, from failure to success.  Those on the hearing end are usually able to sense genuine concern; they will most likely be able to see the intentions of your heart and hear your message, even if it is one that is difficult for them to hear.

Nobody benefits from having a bunch of “yes” men around.  While I’ll never be in a position of corporate power by virtue of the position held, if I ever was, I would hope to be fortunate enough to surround myself with men and women who always speak the truth, even when it is hard for them to deliver the message and perhaps harder for me to hear.  If it is my thoughts, plans, attitude, behavior or anything else that is ever the elephant in the room, then I desperately need and want someone to tell me that.  Do it gently and kindly and (if possible) privately, but by all means, do it!  I’m a big boy.  I can handle it.

I have no idea what life situations you are in where you feel you need to bring up something “obvious” that nobody else is saying, but I suspect you can think of one or two such situations at this time.  I strongly encourage you, in the interest of doing what is most helpful and kind and beneficial in the long run, acknowledge with whomever else needs to hear that there is an elephant in the room.  The benefit gained from the honest conversation will far outweigh the temporary fear of negative consequences that has held you back so far.