Thinking About Our Legacy

“It is not the nature of the task, but its consecration, that is the vital thing.” (Martin Buber)

• PEARLS BEFORE SWINE © 2015 Stephan Pastis. Reprinted by permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK for UFS. All rights reserved.

• PEARLS BEFORE SWINE © 2015 Stephan Pastis. Reprinted by permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK for UFS. All rights reserved.

In the preface to his recently published book, The Road to Character, David Brooks talks about the difference between “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” Brooks describes the former as the skills and proficiencies you list on your resume—those abilities that help you land a job and be successful in your profession. He describes eulogy virtues as the qualities that are likely to be mentioned at your funeral, “the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest, or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.” Brooks admits that for much of his life he gave priority to resume qualities rather than eulogy ones.

I don’t suppose many of us want to think about our funerals, or what people are going to be saying about us as they stand somberly at the podium or nosh on Swedish meatballs and potato salad later. But it’s probably a safe bet that they’re not going to be talking about the wealth or possessions we accumulated. And they’re not going to be lauding our knack with PowerPoint or Excel, or our ability to sell cars, write code, or design heating systems. And if perchance they do, it won’t be about the skill itself, but about the heart and soul that we brought to that ability.

Maybe they’ll talk about the passion we brought to our job, the humor, the patience, the integrity, the kindness. And separate from our jobs, they’ll talk about the qualities that stood out to them. For each of us, those will be different and they may include courage, loyalty, reliability, devotion, compassion, commitment. Each friend and colleague will likely see us differently: to one we were a mentor, to another a buddy, and yet to another we were a sociable neighbor or a wise-cracking cubicle-mate. Each will recall different special qualities depending on the relationship and their own needs and interactions. Yet each of us probably has a few overarching qualities that others recognize as our legacy.

Even for those whose jobs contributed significantly to the community’s, or perhaps the world’s, wellbeing—doctor, statesman, author, scientist—it’s not necessarily the skill or the accomplishment that will be cited, but the dedication and intentionality that accompanied that accomplishment. Equally important as the surgeon’s skill with the scalpel is the compassion she brings to her patients and their families, and to her colleagues in the operating theater. And if the author who pens the greatest literary work of the 21st century is seen off the page as one of the biggest jerks of the century, too, he has earned—at best—hollow tributes.

It bears thinking about now if we want to leave behind us a legacy of friendship, or courage, or faith … or kindness. I have always loved the short poem purported to have been written by the great Raymond Carver just hours before his death:

last fragment

That describes a life that didn’t end in regret.  As we cultivate our skills in order to achieve professional or creative success, we need also to cultivate the qualities of personal success, those that go beyond our technical or career proficiencies. Think about what values or virtues you want to don each morning when you rise, wear throughout your day and tuck under your pillow when you sleep. Whether it’s faith, kindness, integrity, friendship, courage, or all of the above, choose to live your eulogy every day.

It’s either that, or learn to be a damn good parallel parker….

“Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.” (Jean Vanier)

10 thoughts on “Thinking About Our Legacy

  1. Donna!! Thank you so much for visiting and reading my blog, and thanks to Michele for introducing us!
    What I loved most about _The Road To Character_ is that each of the amazing people David Brooks writes about had deep flaws. But they managed around them, lived important lives that made the world better–much better– despite them! It’s an incredibly encouraging book–any one of is can choose to hone our strengths and contribute!
    I so look forward to reading more of your work and connecting!
    Best wishes to you! 😊

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  2. Catherine, thanks so much for your comment, and for visiting and following my blog. And, indeed, thanks to Michelle for “introducing” us! You’re so right that the people David Brooks wrote about were not typical, larger-than-life heroes, and were flawed in their own ways. Their commitments to their causes and to their own beliefs were inspiring, and more so for showing us such commitment is within our own reach. I so enjoyed visiting your blog. Not only are your ideas and your writing beautiful, but it is also gorgeous visually! I’m looking forward to following it and getting to know you. I’m so glad we’ve connected.

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  3. Donna, you remind me here of what is important in life, and how to end it without regret. I think you are right in seeing creative success, which I strive for, as possibly standing in the way of personal success. And thanks for introducing me to David Brooks’ book, which I now plan to read.

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    • Hi, Carol, I hope it’s not an “either/or” between creative and personal success; I like to think of them as a “both/and,” and, hopefully, achieving one helps us also achieve the other. Brooks’ book is interesting–each chapter is an introduction to someone–often someone not all that well-known–who chose and committed to a difficult path, but one that made a difference. I hope you like it. As always, thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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  4. Hi Donna, thanks for the follow on my blog. This post is very timely. Not only has my son recently learned to parallel park but we have spent some time discussing our place in the world. I especially like the line: “Think about what values or virtues you want to don each morning when you rise, wear throughout your day and tuck under your pillow when you sleep.” I look forward to reading more about your year of kindness!

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  5. Thank you so much, Nancy, for signing up to follow my blog and for your comment. Congrats to your son on learning to parallel park! It’s been so long since I’ve had to that I’m not sure I remember how. Your blog has so much to explore–I’ve enjoyed reading several posts and look forward to more. So good to connect with you in the ‘sphere.

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  6. I’ve been getting really good at parallel parking in our little town. Thinking about this connection between legacy, kindness and parking inspired this thought: wouldn’t it be fun to carry little flyers, each printed with one simple, uplifting quote (of which you are a treasure trove, my friend), to tuck on the windshields of parked cars!

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