Much has been written about legacies. I’d like to explore the topic as well, but with a bit of a different slant. One of the first questions usually asked is, “How do you want to be remembered after you are gone?” Does the name Daniel K. Ludwig mean anything? How about Oliver H. Payne or Donald Fisher? All three of these people were billionaires. Ludwig (1897-1995) was a shipping magnate; Payne (1839-1917) was a partner with John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil, and Fisher (1928-2009) co-founded The Gap clothing chain with his wife. The point is that each was a very, very successful and rich man and yet most of us probably never heard of them. So much for wealth in itself being a legacy.
Here’s the thing. After we’re gone almost every single one of us won’t be a passing thought for our descendants, much less for the public in general. Of course our immediate family will remember us . . . for a while. My dad has been gone since 1988 and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. But I doubt seriously that either of our daughters does. Is this sounding macabre or depressing? It shouldn’t. It’s just the way life is. Memories of our walk on this planet are like footprints in the sand. They are there for a fleeting instant and then they are washed away.
I personally don’t care if I’m remembered at all. But here’s the silver lining in all of this. We can live on forever through the good work that we do today. A couple of things matter to me the most where legacies are concerned. First, I want to make sure that the companies that I have helped to create exist for the long term. There are hundreds of families whose loved ones are my team members. It is important to me that these families live and thrive long after I’m gone. Building a sustainable organization is the linchpin for making this a reality. This means that our corporate infrastructure must be robust; our financial condition strong; our core values are constantly at the forefront, and we remain committed to our long-range vision.
The other aspect of the legacy I wish to leave involves philanthropy. I don’t want a building, a street or anything else to be named after me. My wife and I are committed to investing some of our hard-earned dollars in philanthropic causes that help other people. Educational scholarship programs that provide funding in perpetuity are one of the steps we’ve taken in this regard. Helping other entrepreneurs build their own sustainable companies through mentoring is another passion of mine. And I’m not interested in waiting until I die to begin realizing the results of our philanthropic efforts. I want to see the results today – not decades from now after I’m dead and gone (and can’t witness the results then anyway!).
The legacy we choose to leave is very personal for each of us. I’m not about to pass judgment on these choices. However, one thing that is for certain is that it’s unlikely that any of us will be remembered a generation or two after we’re gone. So it probably makes sense to think about making our mark on the future in a way that will be more enduring than our name and our face.
We will be remembered not for who we are today, but for how we benefit mankind tomorrow. The choice is ours whether this memory will be footprints in the sand or permanent stepping stones to a better world.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.