A number of long-standing employees where I work have either retired recently, or their departure is rapidly approaching. I’ve found myself thinking a bit about one in particular; a gentleman with 28 years of service I believe who was my colleague for 16 of those years; and my teammate for the last 12.
Unlike me, he didn’t write any workshop manuals, nor did he create any specific programs we delivered. In fact, I can’t even recall co-facilitating a workshop with him in all that time. That’s odd when you consider we worked on the same team in such close proximity to each other. No, he spent the bulk of his time working out of our drop-in resource area.
About 6 months before his departure, I do recall having a conversation with him about what I termed a legacy project. What I realized back then was that looking ahead in time, there were going to be a number of significant departures from our organization, and when those people left, so too would walk out the door all their ideas and experience. We would in short, be the poorer for their departure. Hence, the idea of some legacy of information; tips, advice, best practices, words of wisdom etc. might be well received by the new hires to take their place.
Well, my words weren’t heeded. No, there he stood on his last day, doing what others before him have come to do on their own last days; making a farewell speech, thanking his teammates and colleagues, having a toast made in his honour and finally thanking the people who decorated the room for the big send off. Now that he’s gone, as big as his personality was, I notice that his name is already being said less and less, some days not at all. There is no picture on a wall to remind us of him, there are no documents we can turn to and say he designed. So what’s his legacy?
It has struck me now though, that his legacy isn’t WHAT he left behind at all, but rather in WHO he touched and influenced. Over those 28 years that he served, how many people were changed – hopefully for the better – because of his influence? How many people have a job because of him? How many in some small or large way became better people? Whether because he said something enlightening or because he did something that provoked a response, how many people learned something or stood their ground for something they believed because of him. The legacy he left you see is in the lives he came into contact with, not in some workshop or document that will eventually be overhauled in time.
And this got ME thinking of ME; and of YOU. We’re still in the game you and me. We haven’t retired yet. We’re still standing in front of others delivering our workshops, or sitting down with people providing one-on-one help and support. We’re still providing customer service behind our counters, in our service bays, on the factory floors or in the office cubicles. We’re still in the jobs that bring us into daily contact with all the people who consume our products and goods, receive our services and hopefully are better for having come into contact with us. Unlike my former colleague, we’re still front and center and can impact on so many people for the better if we so choose to do so.
This responsibility kind of gets lost on us from time-to-time. We get preoccupied with our upcoming plans for the weekend, or we have a lot on our minds about the things going on in our personal lives that sometimes it seems our work is actually something we just try to get through with instead of immersing ourselves in it.
Have a bad day with a lot going on and we might even have a boss that says, “Just do your best to get through the day”, or, “The weekend is almost here and then you can recharge and do what you need to do. But for now, just do what you can.” While we might appreciate that kind of support, the unfortunate ones who get us on those days receive our minimum service. But hey, we’re only human right?
My point here is that NOW is the best time – the only time in fact – when we need to remind ourselves that our legacy is in the people who we benefit today and every day. When people look back – be it on their deathbed or their last day of work, there’s an ending being contemplated. Be it their life or their career, so often what is remembered most fondly or regretted most strongly, is the lives they’ve touched and influenced or the opportunities lost to do so.
You and me? We’re right in the thick of things. We’re still in the jobs and careers where we can make a difference. We still influence others for better or ill; we still produce quality products and give service excellence or we don’t. We may not be so terrific that each and every one of our interactions are positive, but we can strive to make this our goal. That is to say, if we want this goal in the first place.
Somewhere, my former colleague and friend Chudi is still influencing people and imprinting his legacy. Well done sir, and thanks.