The Things You Leave Behind

Plutarch recorded the story that Socrates went to the fanciest neighborhood in Athens and called out, “What are you doing, men? You are giving all possible attention to acquiring money, but small thought to your sons to whom you are to leave it.”

As Socrates pointed out, money is just one piece of the legacy puzzle.

Near the end of his life, President Truman left this note to his daughter: “From a financial standpoint your father has not been a shining success, but he has tried to leave you something that (as Mr. Shakespeare says) cannot be stolen—an honorable reputation and a good name. You must continue that heritage and see that it is not spoiled.”

One of Truman’s contemporaries, the legendary Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, once corrected someone who claimed that Rayburn’s father hadn’t left him much when he died. Yes, said Rayburn, my father died poor. But “he gave me my untarnished name.”

Your legacy is what your children will remember when they think of you. It is built with the gestures, habits, the education you share with them, the books you read together, and the example you set for how you think a good person should live.

But what if, as the kids say, you try to be the man or woman who can do both. The person who provides a legacy in both senses of the word, who both provides and example and provides. They are not mutually exclusive, in fact, they are complementary.

So think carefully about the legacy you want to leave behind—and make it a good one.

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