When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, gave his now famous last lecture, having been diagnosed with terminal cancer, he spoke about ‘Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams’.
The lecture wasn’t about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, enabling the dreams of others and seizing every moment. It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe in. It was about living. That lecture has come to define Randy Pausch in our minds today. That was his legacy.
What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?
Every individual has different expectations of his life, different goals and principles and different ideas of what constitutes success. The legacy of the individual relies very much on all of these factors and acts as pathways that guide people in decisions on what to do or what not to do.
Sometimes, the legacy of an individual goes beyond just making an impact on his own children and has the power to impact a nation. There are those whose legacy has spanned the globe. Martin Luther King Jr. left behind his legacy of positive and selfless actions. Hitler, on the other hand left behind a legacy of negativity and destruction.
Legacy on a global scale rarely gets passed down through genetics. On the occasions it does, the individual finds that he has to grow and mature into the person that he is, as opposed to being a parody of the person whose legacy he carries. When that happens, the heir has a tremendous edge.
As seen in the case of many great sporting legends, rarely does one ever see a son or a daughter reaching the same dizzying heights their parent did. As I like to point out, one cannot inherit one’s father’s greatness by inheriting his tennis racquet!
The one true legacy a person can leave behind is that of mentoring. It is ultimately the process of mentoring that creates true wealth for one’s heirs. The role that mentoring plays in generational legacy in terms of true wealth is fundamental. All great legacies that have been successfully handed down are from great mentors to receptive mentees.
Sadly the media or other communication tools cannot transfer legacies. To a great extent, such tools can help in spreading the knowledge but rarely if ever in spreading the wisdom that comes from the dedication of this knowledge. Money does not constitute a legacy, but merely the trappings. True wealth is the only real basis of a legacy.
Which leads to the question: What is true wealth?
True wealth, is simply the inheritance that you can never spend but can certainly expand. It does not come from mere physical knowledge, but rather from the derivation of such knowledge.
One cannot become a champion by just reading up on the experiences of a previous champion. You need someone who holds your hand as you make your mistakes. Someone who pushes you to be the best that you can be as opposed to being the best of what he was; someone who sets the parameters and expects you to challenge them.
The ideal mentor is one who not just expects you but demands of you to be even greater. Great mentors are not born, just as great mentees are not. They are made.
The best legacy is inculcated and institutionalised into great mentoring programmes. Steve Jobs’ legacy may live on through all his iProducts, but the one that will help a whole new generation of Apple employees in years to come is the much-talked-about Apple University, a project he personally initiated where company executives, present and future, will learn how to think and act like their former leader. “A forum to impart that DNA to future generations,” as Jobs envisioned.
Great mentoring programmes are built into systems and structures, into coaching methodologies and into disciplines that are taught and constantly evolved. In effect, it is the thought process of the mentor developed and continuously built upon by a series of mentees for a whole new generation.
As someone who has benefited from various mentors in my life, I believe that mentorship is the start of a revolution and without mentoring there will be no direction in individuals.
The vast and still growing legacy that I received from my father, whom I lost very recently, is something I have interwoven into the very essence of everything that I do. He believed in doing what is necessary one day at a time rather than predicting possibilities and thus falling short of expectations.
By doing what is necessary, he taught me to find myself; that I am the master of what I do every day. And that I will be the master of whatever I continue to do every day. And thus, to choose carefully the things that I do every day, for, they will become the things that I must do.
(The writer is a leading Asian businessman, bestselling author and speaker. He is also a major investor in the Colombo Stock Exchange.)