It happens every year in the fall: my birthday rolls around and I turn another year older. For good or bad, I am well into the time of my life where I have fewer years ahead of me than I do behind. I am not trying to be morose, just stating a fact. The numbers do not lie. And I suppose I am not unusual in occasionally looking back on my life wondering what my legacy will be. What will I be remembered for, at least among the folks who know me, when I am pushing up daisies?
I recently attended a retirement party for my father-in-law. His third such party in the years I have been blessed to be part of his and my mother-in-law’s family. The man for some reason just cannot stay retired, though I think this one might stick. It is time for a well-deserved rest, and for him to spend more time with his sweetheart at their lakeside cabin. My wife and I arrived at the party just as the retirement speeches started. My father-in-law worked in the legal profession all of his career and is well respected in the legal community of my city and state. Having said this, however, I have really never seen him in a professional setting – except, of course, at retirement parties. If you listen to the speeches at such parties, you can learn a lot about a person and how he or she is regarded amongst peers. My father-in-law was and is well-regarded not only for his legal expertise, but also for the type of man he is. While I knew he was respected professionally, I am much more familiar with his personal life: family man (husband, father, grandfather), gardener, fisherman, a bit of a technophobe. He is also a man of unparalleled wisdom – his most sage and repeated advice to me for maintaining harmony at home being “life goes a lot better when you do what you are told”. This advice has served me well during the 27+ years I have been married to one of his daughters.
What struck me most about the retirement speeches, however, was the professional legacy he is leaving behind. His skill and expertise have touched many lives. He has been a leader to some, a mentor to many, and a colleague and friend to still many more. So this got me to thinking about my own professional legacy. I still have several years before I plan to logout, turn my monitor off, and stow my keyboard for the last time. But during my father-in-law’s retirement party I wondered how I will be remembered. Will I be remembered for contributions to my profession, or for helping those coming behind me, or just for being competent at what I do? I am not sure I as yet know the answer, but any of these would be a respectable legacy. Perhaps the more important point, however, is that we really do not know how, or even if, people will remember us when we retire, so the best approach is to just do the best job we can, the job we are paid to do, and let our legacy take care of itself. Having said this, for the most part we all hope our professional contributions are remembered in a positive light, so it makes sense to pay attention to how we treat our profession and the people we meet along the way.
So what will your professional legacy be? Has yours been largely written through many years of work? Or are you just getting started in your career and so your legacy has yet to be written? I expect most of you are like me — somewhere in between. For whatever you might be remembered, will your contributions be considered a net-positive by those who know you? No matter where you are on your career path, it is worth thinking about.