What will be your legacy?
In 2003 (as I remember), I was asked this question. The question followed the most concise history of time I had ever seen: a timeline drawn in chalk across three of the four walls of a classroom by a professor as he spoke to his class. He speculatively marked the beginning of all time and walked through major historical events, such as the birth of the planet and the end of the dinosaurs, all the while contemplating on the significance of time. Right before his line ended, near the very end of the third wall of blackboards and after just beginning to chart the dawn of the human species (literally just a few inches of wall contained everything from the first humans to the Crusades to World War Two), he stopped briefly to ask someone their birthdate. He marked it on the line. His hand moved probably less than a millimeter. He marked their death. Then, the last remains of the chalkboard and his continued walk across the fourth wall of the room was accompanied by just this description- Time will continue, the endless march of time. You were here so briefly. What was important to you? What was changed for the better by you? What did you do with your brief existence? Anything? What will be your legacy?
Like any talk meant to inspire, this question could have been forgotten. I have heard it hundreds of ways. What made this different was the individual asking it. He wasn’t trying to become the next self-help guru or to land his own TED talk. He was simply trying to set the stage for and facilitate future lessons to align to the differentiated goals for students in his course (on the lifelong professional development of our own abilities in leadership). Students could, upon reflecting on this question, begin to connect the learning experiences to something personally held to be important.
Things appear to be divergent. To an outsider, every action or word uttered may appear to be completely reactionary or disparate events in a life. However, once one knows something about their potential legacy…once someone really understands what drives them, all decisions…every action is fueled with more responsibility to the vision one had set for themselves and the world around them.
I believe this idea of legacy works for all people, organizations, etc. It is what helps to provide one with a personal “brand”.
I have been asking this question of the educational leaders I’ve interviewed over the last couple of months. I ask them, at the conclusion of course-based questions: What do you want your legacy for education/students/teaching/etc. to be? Why? What is (fill in name of school or district or group of people) like after you are gone? What are you doing to affect that change now?
The answers are all different. Every individual has a unique vision of their legacy, whether they want to change the educational landscape for struggling students to those that want to change the opportunities for potential careers in their district from access to technology-rich programs to those that just want to be forgotten.
As I just write these brief, unedited thoughts in the middle of the night, I am thinking about my personal goals, my mission, my potential legacy. I wonder if those with whom I work have ever considered these things. I wonder if our team has a collective mission…or if there is a thought to what our team legacy will be. What is our brand and why?
Photo- shot from Verrazano–Narrows Bridge, on my way to running the New York Marathon again in 2011.