Lately I keep tripping over people who are either “building a legacy” or are trying to convince me that I should be doing one too. It’s beginning to make me all kinds of grumpy.
These strangers are telling me that my life will only have “meaning” if I do stuff that will somehow “impact the future” after I’m long-gone. That one makes me scratch my head. It’s even a bit intimidating.
Me, I’m still walking towards my dream and I’m trying very hard to walk lightly in the world.
It seems to me that when you aim at making a BIG and LASTING impression, you’ve got to stomp mighty hard to leave deep footprints in the sand. If it’s all mud or concrete or asphalt, you might as well fuggedaboudit.
I figure as long as people don’t cringe when they see me coming, then I’m doing pretty okay. If they actually smile, wave at me, and want to talk-story, then I’m good.
The thing I notice is these so-called legacy-builders seem to be doing pretty much the same-old things they’ve always done. It just looks like they hauled out a stash of dumb bumper stickers so they can puff out their chests and go sticking their noses in where they may not be welcome.
I recognize it because I’ve done it myself. I get irritated because it is just another jiu-jitsu mind-game. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
I’m afraid “legacies” don’t mean so much to a person who once gleefully cruised through estate sales and garage and yard sales looking for the “treasures” that other people’s descendants put on offer.
REMEMBER THE “MISSION STATEMENT” MOVEMENT?
There was a time when every company in the world absolutely had to have a “mission statement.” It was the thing to do.
Little business creators and founders (me included) spent hours whacking themselves upside the head (in between the times of hustling like hell to keep from drowning) trying to come up with some portentous-sounding blather.
Corporations threw big money into their own efforts and there were lots and lots of committees and meetings and consultations and studies. Mountains of forests got chopped down to make the paper for all those meeting notes.
Apparently, it was all on the way to building that aggravating automated voice-mail response message that now tells me I am “important” to some anonymous corporate clone as I sit there for thirty minutes waiting for service. AND they have the nerve to play dumb ads in my ear while I wait for a human being to talk to me…but, let’s not even go there.
The resulting mission statements from all this effort sounded like the humming of bees in a hive. Unfortunately, they were not as entrancing.
Almost nobody understood what the heck those G-awful mission statements meant. People did not actually take off and go out there to accomplish said “missions.” The Real was most people probably couldn’t even remember what the so-called mission was supposed to be.
THE PROBLEM WITH “WORD-POWER”
I love words. I’m a poet, a storyteller, and 100% part-Hawaiian, so I have to believe there is power in words. It’s my “thing.”
However, that doesn’t blind me to their flaws. (It probably also doesn’t help that I am also well aware of our own failings as humans.)
The thing is that some words, when combined right, have power, but all the words there ever were actually don’t have much juice.
Words are just air sucked up by your nose and mouth. The air runs through your lungs and gets shaped by the vibrating cords in your throat and all the ways you can move your tongue and other mouth accoutrements before it flows past your flexing lips, making its way to other people’s ears.
Words actually have no power on their own.
Make a note: Humans + Action = Value Added (to words)
What does have power are the humans saying the words as well as the humans listening to them. Power manifests in the actions those humans take as a result of saying or hearing or reading or thinking on those words.
FIRST COMES UNDERSTANDING
The first step when trying to infuse power into words is getting somebody (especially your own self) to understand what you are actually saying.
Somebody urgently jabbering at you in a foreign language is not going to get you to lift your big foot off their little tootsies if you don’t understand what they are trying to tell you.
Sign language works better then. All the other person has to do is point at your clodhopper shoe grinding into her bare foot and you “get” it. What you do after that is up to you.
Once you understand (and can do something with) those words or non-verbal signals that you have encountered, then the next things you have to remember are your own insights and understandings about them as well as the decisions you’ve made because of them.
HUMANS ARE GOOD AT NOT-REMEMBERING EVEN WHEN THEY UNDERSTAND THE WORDS
The guys in white lab coats also did other studies and experiments and figured out that human short-term memories can only hold a really limited number of separate items.
Never mind what all those savants and dazzling fancy-pants mind-athletes can do. The Smarty Pants figured out that your average human can remember about seven items, plus or minus two, depending on the individual.
You can test this out your own self.
- Grab a friend and read a series of words that have no connection to one another and ask your friend to repeat them back to you.
- Start with one word. (That will be a piece of cake for them.)
- Do two more different words.
- Now do three different words…and so on.
- Watch what happens when you get up to about six or seven words. Unless your friend’s some kind of savant or is in training for the Mind Olympics, it’s likely that there will be mistakes.
Have your friend try the same experiment on you. I bet the same thing happens to you as well.
AND FURTHERMORE…WITH AN ALTERNATIVE THROWN IN
Not only do humans not remember lots and lots of things, we get distracted easily.
Human short-term (working) memory, the Smarty Pants found, cannot retain information for more than a few seconds. All it takes is a minor distraction and your working memory will get all jammed up.
It gets worse as you get older. Ever had the experience of standing in front of the refrigerator wondering what you are looking for? Uh-huh. Right.
The good news is that this temporary mind-glitch doesn’t necessarily signal the onset of dementia. It could just be a sign that you’re human.
To remember something for longer than a few seconds, the Smarty Pants tell us, you have to keep repeating it to yourself several times. That’s how you put an idea or concept into your long-term memory.
That is why complicated, more-than-seven-words mission statements and legacy goals and so on and so forth just don’t stick.
And that’s why very short mottos or mantras might.
A MOTTO IS LIKE A PILL
A “motto” is a word, phrase or sentence that “expresses the principles or beliefs of a person,” the Cambridge English dictionary says. Oxford Languages says it is a short sentence or phrase “chosen as encapsulating the beliefs or ideals guiding an individual, family, or institution.”
Does that “encapsulating” thing remind you of a pill? It does me.
But, pills are only as good as what’s in them and they only work if you do the regimen that is required for them to do their thing effectively.
For instance, the American motto that’s inscribed on all our coins and other money says, “In God We Trust.” Easy to remember, right? (Not so easy to do, but, hey, we do keep trying.)
And that’s the whole point of a motto. You will remember a motto if you put in the work to make it real. If you fall down a lot…well, that’s par for the course.
[NOTE BY AUTHOR: Humans fall down a lot.]
If the motto you make for yourself really does “encapsulate” your beliefs and ideals, you’ll be able to use it as a filter and a guidepost for how you are walking your walk.
The results you get from your actions in this consensus-world of ours will test, temper, and prove your motto. And that is a good thing. How else are you going to know that it works?
HERE’S A BOOK
One of the very best books I’ve come across that talks about the realities of making a business that makes sense is REWORK: Change the Way You Work Forever by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.
Jason Fried and his friends Carlos Segura and Ernest Kim started a Chicago-based web software company in 1999 with an online manifesto called “37signals.”
Click on the different-colored manifesto name above and you’ll be whisked off to the company’s original manifesto. The thing will twist your head back around to looking at what is Real, I think. This book is an expansion, and is more of the same.
The company name, according to the Wikipedia entry, was a reference to the 37 radio telescope signals identified by astronomer Paul Horowitz as potential messages from extraterrestrial intelligence. (I like that quirkiness.)
The guys were young and they were nerds. They also maintained a firm focus on minimizing the interruptions and distractions that took them away from building a small company that was of real service to their customers and clientele.
They declared themselves uninterested in the “how to be a business” mind-games that were likely to distract them from their real work, which was, they said, serving their customers.
Eventually Fried and friends built up their company, subsequently renamed “Basecamp” (after a product that was their first major success), into a business that is an acknowledged, solid contender for doing useful and splendid things for other businesses.
They also made a lot of bucks.
AND ANOTHER STORY
There’s an old Zen teaching story about a monk who is lost in the wilderness. He comes to a river too wide and wild to swim across and builds himself a raft out of downed limbs and vines. The monk uses the raft to get across the turbulent waters safely.
Once he gets across the river, he carries the raft for a long time…until he can no longer smell the scent of water in the air. He puts the raft down and sets it on fire. Once the flames die out and the fire is dead, he goes on his way.
Usually the listener of the story wants to know, “Why did the monk burn the raft?”
The storyteller says, “Once you no longer need a tool, it’s time to put it away.”
Sometimes the listener asks, “Why didn’t the monk leave the raft for the next guy who gets lost in the wilderness?”
And the answer is: “Sometimes you just have to build your own raft.”
Here’s another poem:
This is a mediocre poem.
It doesn’t dance or sing.
The words don’t want to come out and play.
Maybe they are watching tv or something….
Being l-a-z-y, getting fat,
And there isn’t some nationally-known athlete-word around
To inspire them to get off their couch-potato asses.
They’re playing video games, I bet.
They’re getting zombied-out, lost in the Internet webrings,
Flying through that world of ones and zeroes.
They’d rather be on Kindles,
Packed in e-lectronic, plastic rectangles with zero percent fat,
Cavorting among the scrolling lines.
(Paper and pens are so-o-o-o yesterday.)
Or maybe they all grew up
And now they’re stuck in
Boring meeting minutes…
Interminable staff reports…
Clumsy PowerPoint presentations,
Wedged in cages made of graphs and illustrations.
Maybe some guru guy or ad man or politician
Bought them up wholesale.
Maybe now they’re all exhausted
From getting twisted and squeezed and bent out of shape.
They just aren’t coming….
Fine , then.
I’m outa here….
Created by Netta Kanoho
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