I taught MBAs at MIT for a time and I ended up, one day, at the Mount Auburn Cemetery. It is a beautiful cemetery in Cambridge. And I was walking around. It was my birthday and I was thinking. And the first time around, I saw these tombstones and these wonderful people who’d done great things and I thought, what do I want to be remembered for? And I did another stroll around, and the second time, another question came to me, which did me better, which was, why do I want to be remembered at all? And that, I think, took me different places.
I thought this was fascinating and it felt like another brick had hit me on the head, like it did just a few weeks ago. One of the deeply ingrained beliefs that I had was that we shouldn’t go after money and fame. But going after leaving a mark, that was an honorable and desirable thing to do.
There seem to be all these quotes from famous people, that I thought have probably given this a lot of thought that one should in fact try to be remembered for something:
The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering. – Bruce Lee
All good men and women must take responsibility to create legacies that will take the next generation to a level we could only imagine. – Jim Rohn
If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin
Outlive your life! – Max Lucado
These were all incredibly smart people, and yet, trying to ponder really hard “why” one should create a legacy or something worth remembering, it leaves me baffled with how few good answers would come to mind.
In fact, listening to Ricardo Semler, I took it as inspiration to ponder it some more and I really couldn’t come up with any argument why trying to leave a mark would be something to go after either. Firstly and maybe most importantly, I thought that wanting to leave a mark or creating a legacy takes us away from living in the here and the now. It makes us want to stretch ourselves into the future at all times, without learning the skill to truly experiencing the presence.
Another quote I read at a similar time that also made me think that not focusing on leaving a mark could be a good thing comes from Will Smith:
“After Earth comes out, I get the box-office numbers on Monday and I was devastated for about twenty-four minutes, and then my phone rang and I found out my father had cancer. That put it in perspective—viciously. And I went right downstairs and got on the treadmill. And I was on the treadmill for about ninety minutes. And that Monday started the new phase of my life, a new concept: Only love is going to fill that hole. You can’t win enough, you can’t have enough money, you can’t succeed enough. There is not enough. The only thing that will ever satiate that existential thirst is love. And I just remember that day I made the shift from wanting to be a winner to wanting to have the most powerful, deep, and beautiful relationships I could possibly have.”
This is another very “now” focused way of thinking that shows how Will discovered a shift that brings him away from focusing on goals, no matter how desirable they may be.
The most interesting that I noticed about pondering not to need to leave a mark or pursue a big vision for myself is that it adds a level of lightheartedness to my life. Like removing a big burden of needing to achieve something big and instead being free to live the best life I can right now.
I’m intrigued to spend more time with this thought of possibly not needing to leave a mark on the world, I have this hunch like Ricardo Semler said that it’ll take me to different, interesting places.
What makes me chuckle at times after writing an article like this is that I relate to it very strongly conceptually. And when I look at my actions and how I live my life, it’s very much geared towards wanting to leave a mark behind, which is the opposite of what I’m saying. It’ll be interesting to see how I might bring thought and action in better alignment on this.