What do you want your legacy to be?
Today we watched the funeral of 41stPresident of USA, George H.W. Bush. As you listened to how he was remembered, it makes you wonder what others will say about you when you are gone. You do not have to be a President to think about it. We all wish to be remembered well. Glad to see many people had good things to say about our 41stPresident.
Years ago, I decided to talk to elderly people to understand what they value about their lives the most. What is the most important thing in life after living for 80, 90, 100 years? If the answers are especially common and universal, I wanted to know it now. What do they want to say about their lives?
I saw many people around me who started living a better and more meaningful life after they went through a tragedy or hardship. When they lose a loved one too early; when they have cancer, they beat it and are given another chance to live a better life; when they lose a home at a fire or anything that shakes you up in your core and makes you think what the most important things in life are.
I talked to people, I read books about it; it all comes down to
who you loved,
who loved you back,
if you were able to show your love,
if you create good moments with the most precious people in your life
and if you took risks to go after your dreams even if you never reached them.
Most people do not want to have regrets but they are OK with disappointments; at least they know they tried. Making the most of every day moments seems crucial from what I have learned.
So I thought, why reinvent the wheel? Obviously it is important to spend quality time with loved ones. That is why the workplaces that expected you to work for 10-12 hours a day never made sense to me. You will never regain that time with your children as they grow up. I see too many dads from the baby boomer’s generation who regret they did not get to see their children as much. It never made sense to me when I started my career that everybody would say “your family comes first” but in reality people who spend the most time at the office, away from family got rewarded. I heard too many stories from women who were warned they spend too much time with their new born babies and threatened they may lose their positions. Like women had those babies on their own and men had no responsibility. It all fell on women. I know too many people who only live for Fridays and hate their Mondays and the rest of the week for that matter. It is crazy.
So what do we need to do? To have a life with good balance and to spend time on the most important things and people in life, all organizations should recognize this is a human need. It is not being lazy or irresponsible. If we all want to live a happy and healthy life and work makes up a huge chunk of it, we need to have work that is flexible enough for people to decide how to use that time as long as we deliver results. Most leaders still do not realize, people work better when they know they can take care of loved ones when they need to. I worked at a small company like that for 7 years for this reason only although I made less money. I felt like human. I was loyal to them more than any other company. Because whenever some personal matter needed my attention, I did not even have to ask permission. Do you know how great that feels?
So as leaders in any level of an organization (including the highest level of government as we watched today), what do you want to say about your life at 90 or 100 and what do you want your legacy to be?
Do you want to be remembered as someone who stressed people out, demanded a lot, made people sick with work, treated them as less than you are or do you want to be known as someone who touched people’s lives besides work, knowing you cared about them as human beings, making them happy and healthy at work? It is really a choice we can all make.
A President can touch millions of lives but your life impacting only a few is still precious since you give them the chance to do the same. This is how our world will get better. One person at a time.
What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.