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Your Legacy is at Risk

Risk: Ultimately, you do not get to decide how you’ll be remembered.

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When I sit down to write or create a product or work on some other interesting project, I like to think I’m doing my very best work—that I’m building my legacy.

And actually, I am; but I don’t get to decide how it will be received. The way I see it, a legacy is something that’s built over a lifetime, but isn’t fully understood until after that lifetime is over. My job is to build what I think the world needs using the best information I have, and hope that it makes the impact I want it to.

I get to build it but, ultimately, you get to judge it.  And there are a lot more of you than there are of me. Once I’m gone, my opinion of my work won’t matter a whole lot.

So how will the world remember you once you’re gone? Probably by whatever it is you decide to do the most. Wherever you spend the majority of your time, it’s a pretty safe bet that that’s the picture we’ll see of you—now and in the future.

Of course, this brings up a few difficult questions:

Am I giving enough time to what I think is important? Legacy building is not a part-time gig. This isn’t something you can build on the weekends, and you don’t get to set your hours for “remember me” time and “forget this part” time. If you feel strongly about something, then you must give it your full attention regardless of other commitments. The project manager that lived to play in a band on the weekends will live on as… the project manager that played in a band on the weekends, not the other way around.

Will what I think is important end up on the right side of history? This is a question that’s easy to answer in hindsight, and often difficult right now. You can act on your best judgment, but there’s no guarantee you’ll be smiled upon later. History is fraught with stories of those who gave everything they had to what they thought was right. Some became famous, others only infamous.

  • Albert Einstein dedicated his life to explaining the universe.
  • Hitler gave everything he had to creating a better Germany.
  • Rosa Parks fought for civil rights.
  • Jefferson Davis worked to build a more perfect union.
  • Gandhi toiled to win independence for India.
  • Pol Pot was driven to make everyone equal in Cambodia.

Those all sound like nice goals, but can you pick out the losers?

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Of course, what’s worse than not giving enough time to your passion or fighting for the wrong thing is fighting for nothing at all. If you do nothing with your time, your legacy—for better or for worse—will end when you do. If you leave nothing to remember, no one is going to go out of their way to make something up for you.

This is an unfortunately common response to the internal “What should I do with myself” question because the fear of getting it wrong is stronger than the drive to get it right. “Nothing” becomes an acceptable answer. As humans, this is our ultimate design flaw. Hopefully we’ll work that bug out in version 2.0.

For now, the best work around is to err on the side of humanity—take your drive and apply it to something that makes everyone’s lives better.

When you give your time to something that creates a better world for everyone rather than a select few, any act—no matter how small—becomes a revolutionary legacy builder. Anything else is a risk you probably don’t want to take.

Your turn: Where do you spend most of your time? How do you feel about that? Let me know in the comments.

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Read more about building a strong legacy from Karol Gajda, someone who truly embraces this concept.

Image by: dbking