2018 is one of those “milestone” birthdays for me and for many others born in 1958. By the grace of God, I have arrived at the age of 60!  Not long ago, I was graduating from college, meeting my wife, sitting for the CPA exam, and starting my career.  Back then, 40 was considered “old.”  Now I find myself saying “60 is the new 40!”

At age 60, I can’t help feeling a bit reflective.  What happened to all the time from my birth to senior citizenship?  I believe all of us want our lives to have positive significance and lasting meaning.  This is our legacy and the only thing we leave behind.

In this blog, I want to “go deeper” on the concept of legacy – what it is, the challenges that stand in the way of leaving an extraordinary and memorable legacy, and practical ideas for building and leaving great personal legacies as members of the CPA profession.

Your legacy is what others say and remember about you when you move on to the next season in your life, whatever and whenever that may be.  It is the intangible things people love about you and will miss most when you’re gone.  It is the lasting part of you that continues to live on in future generations.

Your legacy is not the tangible, “worldly” success you achieve, the academic degrees you earn, the book of business you manage, the titles you hold, the money you make, the number of hours you work or the business travel you log.

The truth is: we all leave a legacy.  The question is whether it will be ordinary or extraordinary? Forgettable or memorable?

Legacy 1 – Ordinary and Forgettable Legacy 2 – Extraordinary and Memorable
Worked a lot. Kept busy. Was self-taught. Focused more on self. Seemed disinterested in knowing others or being known by them. Preferred to work alone. Did not ask for help or invite others to come along. Avoided conflict. Resisted change. Kept a tight grip. Worked a lot. Kept busy. Willing to teach and learn from others. Often put others first. Showed interest and compassion in others. Preferred to work as a team. Asked for help and input. Invited others to come along. Resolved conflict.  Embraced change. Open hands.

If you honestly assessed your legacy as of today, would it look more like Legacy 1 or 2?  Personally, I see my legacy as a “blend,” with some of the positive aspects of Legacy 2, but with a tendency to drift back toward Legacy 1.  If this describes you, too, the question then is:  What are we committed to do about it?  What “obstacles” are getting in the way and making it difficult for us to leave an extraordinary and memorable legacy?

Here is my “list” of the top legacy obstacles:

  1. All of us are TOO BUSY” being busy, proud of our “workloads” and feeling the “need” to do it all ourselves – rather than teaching, teaming and trusting in others. Stop adding to the already crazy pile of things you believe you (and only you) must continue to do.  Stop telling yourself that you really can do it all and have it all.  There are simply some things you need to “let go” because the cost of holding on to them is not having the things you value more – such as leaving a positive legacy
  1. All of us are living in “DENIAL” and find it hard to admit and acknowledge our mortality. Life is precious and short.  Stop behaving like you have all the time in the world.  Stop wasting time.  Stop telling yourself that legacy building is for “later”, when you’re older, and when you have more time. You cannot “fix” your legacy after you’re gone, so start doing NOW what you want others to remember you for in the end
  1. We are all naturally SELFISH and self-focused. Focusing on others first is really, really hard to do. Remember this:  the only place you end up by focusing on yourself is alone and without a positive legacy
  1. Finally, there is FEAR, which causes us to prefer the “safe” path of keeping things the way they are, resisting change and holding on too tightly to the things we really need to be giving away. Don’t let fear keep you from taking the “risky” path which bravely faces the enormity of this challenge and leads to the reward of a positive legacy.  Boldly take the first step and let it build from there

And now, here are my ideas on how we all might overcome these legacy obstacles and become better legacy builders:

  1. CREATE A VISION: Your legacy is your ultimate “return and report.” Envision what you want others to say about you. Make a list of the “strategic” things you would like to be doing but aren’t doing.  See Legacy 2 above for some ideas.  Remember this is “Quadrant II time.”  Don’t just pay “lip service” – schedule it!  Put the “non-essentials” on hold.
  1. PRIORITIZE - Concentrate on 1 or 2 BIG THINGS. Establish a “possibilities list” to keep track of all the ideas you have, but don’t “sabotage” the achievement of your legacy by trying to go too many places at the same time.
  1. GET STARTED – Visioning and planning are critical.  But don’t get “stuck” in planning and analysis mode.  Just trust your “gut” and get started.  Don’t wait until your plans are “polished” and “perfect” – it is OK to learn and “course correct” along the way.  Plus, you don’t have time to waste!
  1. TEACH. TRAIN. TRANSITION. Leaving a legacy is about giving yourself away by:
  • Taking a staff person along to your next meeting, introducing them to your clients, and “showing them the ropes,” debriefing in the car on the way back to the office
  • Taking one item on your list and assigning ownership to another person who will benefit from learning to be an effective owner
  • Taking a manager to lunch, asking out their career plans, and sharing the story of how you became a partner
  • Teaching others something you’re good at like business development
  • Asking a staff person to teach you how to use some new technology and giving them a chance to begin building their own legacy
  • Putting others first, becoming less so that others can become more
  • Leading by example

We will continue to help our clients learn and grow and succeed at life as you bravely do NOW what you want others to remember you for in the end.  If you have ideas or experiences to share on building and leaving an extraordinary and memorable legacy, please post them so others can benefit.

Best regards,