A long time ago, in a workshop far, far away, the opening icebreaker was something along the lines of “turn to the person next to you, and talk about how you would like to be remembered after you have passed away. What would you like your legacy to be?” The responses were typical of passionate educators: “I touched the future.” “I made a difference in the lives of children.” “I instilled a love of learning.” Except mine. Think I upset the guy I was paired with when all I told him I wanted my legacy to be, “Damn, he was OLD!”
But I was very serious. And I still work hard to never confuse who I am with what I do.
Note to presenters – most of us in the audience detest the icebreakers. At the beginning of the workshop, we are usually energized and ready to go to work. The icebreaker really serves no useful purpose except to take the air and energy out of the room. Unless you are planning on using the information gained in some useful way later in the day, please don’t waste our time with the icebreaker/warmup. As one who spent several years training teachers for over 40 weeks a year, nobody ever complained when I explained that there would be no introductory activity. Trust me!!!
This topic reminded me of a TED talk by David Brooks in 2014. He talked about the differences between resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Your resume virtues are the skills you bring to your job, and what is accomplished while you are there. Your eulogy virtues are deeper: who are you, what is the nature of your relationships, are you bold, loving, dependable, consistent? Most of us would agree that the eulogy virtues are the most important. But are they the ones we think about the most?
In our resume world, we are worldly and ambitious. We want to build, create, innovate. In our eulogy world, we want not only to do good, but also be good. We are constantly trying to balance external success with internal peace and value. And we often confuse who we are with what we do.
All of us wear many hats simultaneously. I am a husband, father, grandfather, uncle, brother, friend, neighbor, musician, golfer, educator, mentor, among other things. All are important in my life. That’s a lot of balls to continually juggle.
A lesson learned from a short, but powerful speech from Bryan Dyson when he was CEO of Coca-Cola was that we all have five balls to keep airborne. They are Work, Family, Health, Friends and Spirit. Work is a rubber ball, if you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four are made of glass. If one of these is dropped, it will be irrecoverably damaged, or shattered. It will never be the same. Work hard during the school day, but leave on time. Give yourself, your family and your friends the time they require. You will be replaced as soon as you leave your job, and someone else will do the work. You cannot be replaced elsewhere.
The opening number of “A Chorus Line” introduces the audience to a group of dancers auditioning for a show. The chorus line is the bottom rung of the performers ladder, no names in lights or in the credits. One of the characters makes the first cut and is asked to give his resume and photo to the director’s assistant. As he is looking at his professional life, he sings: “Who am I anyway? Am I my resume? That is a picture of a person I don’t know. What does he want from me? What should I try to be? So many faces all around, and here we go.” Pretty much captures how most of us feel at various times during our work days.
Through my career, I had the opportunity to be in the room with some recognizable stars and CEO’s. The stars didn’t have perfect hair without the help of make-up assistants. None of the CEO’s ever had a glitch-free project and clean sailing that the books and articles would lead us to believe. Nobody at my gym is cover material for a workout magazine.
Role models are fine, but not when they get in the way of embracing our reality. The reality of not enough time, not enough information, not enough resources, the reality of imperfection and vulnerability. Young people grow old quickly in this job.
Do you want to be remembered for what is in your legacy, or what is in your eulogy?
And so it goes…