Oswald Letter

You are in control of your own legacy

Vintage inscription made by old typewriterby Dan Oswald

I enjoy reading biographies. People’s lives fascinate me and most of the time are much more interesting than any piece of fiction. Over the years, I’ve read dozens, if not hundreds, of biographies of politicians, business leaders, and athletes.

I’m not sure what my fascination is with other people’s lives, but I think it has something to do with that human element. Regardless of how successful the subject of a biography is (or was), they still had flaws and weaknesses. They still put their pants on one leg at a time. Yet they rose to such a level of success that books are being written about them. Maybe it’s comforting to know they aren’t so different from the rest of us.

I was having breakfast last week with a new acquaintance. I had never met him in person before and had only spoken with him on the phone for a few brief moments before the breakfast meeting. We quickly found some common ground, including a prominent local businessman who passed away last year. It turns out that my breakfast companion worked closely with the businessman and had a great deal of respect for him. Here are a few of the reasons he revered the man:

  1. He grew up very poor, and despite achieving great wealth, he never forgot where he came from.
  2. He treated everyone the same. It didn’t matter who you were—he was genuinely interested in knowing you as a person.
  3. His word was his bond. If he said it, he did it. Simple as that.

Despite having met the businessman on a number of occasions and knowing many people who had worked with him, because of one person’s perspective, I left our breakfast with a better understanding of why so many revered him. I got a mini-biography about the man over a meal.

When my father passed away, more than 20 years ago now, we asked everyone at the funeral to share a memory they had of him. We provided note cards and asked them to jot down a sentence or two about an experience they shared with dad. Many of the people who attended the funeral were not known to me or my siblings, but they had known our father. Reading those memories, seeing our dad through the eyes of others, gave us a very different perspective of a man we all thought we knew so well. You see, we knew him only as a father, but they knew him as a friend, colleague, brother, and mentor. It was like reading the biography of our father written by others he had shared his life with.

So what’s your story? What would they write about you? Each day another page of our story is written, and we’re never sure when it will be complete. What would your coworkers say it was like to work with you? What would your family members have to say about you? Each one of us has the opportunity to make a profound impact on those around us. It can be as simple as a kind word or gesture, but we should each focus on living our life like it’s being recorded in a book. What would your book say?

You don’t have to achieve unparalleled success to make an impact on others. Treating everyone as if they matter—because they do—isn’t important just for the rich and famous. Being true to your word and honoring your promises isn’t just for the successful. These are things you can do and live every single day so that when they write the book about your life, they will talk about your kindness and your honesty. Don’t ever forget that every day you control your story. Your choices are what will ultimately determine how you’re remembered. It’s your legacy—make sure you don’t lose sight of its importance.