Today is August 20 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you consider your legacy?” Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk proclaimed “Legacy is currency. Do the work. Everyone wants to be successful, but nobody wants to do the work.” Those who leverage their mind, body, and spirit to navigate the chaos understand their legacy is also their greatest currency. Doing the work, day after day for an extended period of time allows us to carve our legacy into those around us as we navigate the chaos.
Unfortunately, far too many people get too busy or competitive while navigating the chaos and therefore forget about their legacy. In his book When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough: The Search for a Life That Matters, best-selling author Harold Kushner tells the story of how he periodically encounters someone who lacks any sense of their legacy. As Kushner recalled “Some people find it hard to break the habit of competitiveness. They are not able to relax and chat with me. They feel they have to impress me by telling me how successful they are, by dropping the names of important people they know. I find myself wondering whether part of the price they have paid for their success is that they keep transforming friends into enemies.”
While navigating the chaos it is certainly easy enough to get so competitive that you forget about the imprint you leave on others as well as your legacy if left unchecked.
Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel was so competitive he become blinded to his legacy. Fortunately for Alfred, a publication mishap gave him a chance to fix his legacy before he died. As historian Oscar J. Falnes detailed the Nobel name was “associated with the arts of war.” Nobel’s father Immanuel was an engineer helped Russia build underwater mines during the Crimean War while Alfred earned his fortune developing new types of explosives.
He created perhaps his most famous invention, dynamite, in 1867 which became widely used both in construction and in warfare. By the time he wrote his will, Nobel was hugely wealthy and owned nearly 100 factories that made explosives and munitions.
Sadly, Alfred’s brother Ludvig died in France in 1888. Due to poor reporting, at least one French newspaper believed that it was Alfred who had perished, and it proceeded to write a scathing obituary that branded him a “merchant of death” who had grown rich by developing new ways to “mutilate and kill.”
The error was later corrected, but not before Alfred had the unpleasant experience of reading his own death notice. The incident may have brought on a crisis of conscience and led him to reevaluate his career. As Kushner retells the story in his book “Alfred had the unique opportunity to read his own obituary in his lifetime and to see what he would be remembered for. He was shocked to think that this was what his life would up to, to be remembered as a merchant of death and destruction.”
According to biographer Kenne Fant, Alfred “became so obsessed with his posthumous reputation that he rewrote his last will, bequeathing most of his fortune to a cause upon which no future obituary writer would be able to cast aspersions.”
In a revised handwritten will containing less than 1,000 words, Alfred outlined a plan to devote the vast majority of his estate—worth around $265 million today—to a series of prizes for “those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” He initially listed five awards in his will (a sixth, for economics, was added in 1968). Three were for the greatest discoveries or inventions in the fields of physics, chemistry, and medicine, while a fourth was devoted to the author of the “most outstanding work” of literature. The fifth award was designated for “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.”
The organization the “dynamite king” willed into existence has since awarded more than 500 prizes to historical luminaries ranging from Albert Einstein and Marie Curie to Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway and Martin Luther King, Jr. To this day, the awards are still handed out every December 10—the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.
Competition is often involved with translating one dream after another into reality. Those who leverage their mind, body, and soul, however, leverage their self-awareness and engage in the self-love and self-care required to monitor just how destructive their competitive edge is. You can live a life where you ensure you have a positive legacy once you are gone and still pursue multiple dreams.
Life each of the Navigate the Chaos posts, the choice is yours.
How often do consider your legacy?
What have you done lately to ensure your legacy?
you know of anyone who lived the belief that ‘legacy is currency?’
How frequently do you stop and reflect upon the level and impact of your competitiveness?
If you could read your own obituary today would you be proud of your legacy?
What would you hope your obituary says about you?