It is never too early to think about your legacy. I wish someone would have shared this simple truth with me in my teens, 20s or 30s. More importantly, I wish someone would have shared how to forge through actions a legacy that I could be proud of. Instead, I am left to pray that my actions over these last three decades were legacy affirming (or at least not destructive). I simply didn’t focus on my legacy, instead adopting a more myopic, short-term focus on how to progress my career, achieve the next financial milestone, or achieve the next monthly/quarterly goal.
Legacy is defined as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.” My definition of legacy is far more basic–how you are/will be viewed by those that you have interacted with and how profoundly you have impacted those around you. Have you made an impact and was that impact a positive one on the lives of those you care about?
To properly think about your legacy, you need to think about what you want said years from now about you, and then work backwards. For example, I would like to be known as a transparent leader, one that allows my team to stretch themselves, learn from mistakes, and maintain a big-picture view in all they do. Nothing would make me happier than to hear a colleague or previous co-worker say something like “Todd allowed me to try new things and was supportive when those things didn’t work out” or “I grew not only as a professional, but also a person under Todd’s leadership.”
So, with the above end in mind, I ask myself whether my actions reflect the legacy I intend to forge? Is how I am acting today laying the groundwork for the legacy I will leave many decades from now? So, with no further adieu, below are all the things I wish I would have more clearly realized that would have positively impacted my legacy. . .
I wish someone would have told me that how I carry myself in social settings as a twenty-something would help form how people think of me in my 30s. People have long memories. Doing things you regret as a young adult (even a teen for that matter) will stay with you for decades.
I wish I would have realized just how small the world is. Folks I competed against in high school athletics, became friends in college, became colleagues in jobs out of college, became partners in current business ventures, etc. Who you meet along your life’s journey and how you treat those around you will impact you in future times—count on it.
I wish someone would have told me that how I represent myself on social media in my 30s would matter in future decades. We live in a world where posts are an ever-present part of our lives. What is digitally transmitted endures forever.
I wish someone would have reminded me that what comes out of my mouth reflects what is in my heart and that words are far more impactful than most actions.
I wish someone would have told me that you can be a leader without actually leading people in a managerial sense. Leading by example speaks volumes about the type of person you are or will be. Leaders don’t have to be formally anointed or have a certain title.
I wish I would have learned sooner that caring for the whole person, both personally and professionally, is the most effective way to earn the trust and loyalty of a team. As a people manager, it is easy to fixate on the professional side of work relationships. However, caring for the personal side of the employee, the individual behind the worker persona, is an equally important facet of effective leadership.
The above items may all be obvious and/or lessons you have learned through your own life journey. For me, while none of the lessons were overly complicated, it took me many years to fully grasp each of their true meanings. As each lesson came into focus and I was able to put them into practice, my ability to build my legacy was enhanced.
The good news is that legacies are built over extended periods of time. If you have not been legacy-focused, it is not too late to make it a priority. Focus on your behaviors, attitude, and style with an eye toward the big picture. Focus on the legacy you desire and ensure all you do is in sync with that end legacy goal.