“How do you want to be remembered?”
I was filling out some interview questions for a glossy magazine. They were doing a special on ‘Women in Business’ and they were giving me a run.
The questions were all pretty straight forward. ‘What gets you out of the bed in the morning?’ ‘Who’s been the biggest influence on your life?’ ‘What are you reading right now?’ I’d seen it all before.
But then I got to Question 14: How do you want to be remembered?
I baulked. I wasn’t sure how to answer it.
I took a break. Grabbed a cuppa, and mulled it over.
Then I came back and wrote:
I would like to be remembered as a supermodel race car driver who invented a cure for cancer and a number of fabulous cheesecake recipes.
Turns out, that’s not an appropriate answer.
I showed it to a few people around the office, and there was pretty much a consensus that this wasn’t the best possible answer.
“But it’s asking me how I want to be remembered. It’s a creative exercise.”
“But you’re not…”
I shot him a look. If he was about to question my looks or my driving skills, there’d be trouble.
“You’re not, um, someone who’s invented a cure for cancer.”
Ok, I’m stirring for my own amusement. But there was just something in this question that didn’t sit right. How do you want to be remembered?
It sounds like a vanity exercise to me. How do you want people to think when they think of you?
And we seem to be getting more and more obsessed with our image. I guess that’s what happens when the marginal cost of a photo is effectively nothing. There’s nothing to stop people spending hours getting just the right ‘selfie’.
We used to worry about what our clothes said about us. What story are these shoes telling? Adventurous go-getter? Nursing home attendant?
But technology has unlocked our capacity to stress about our image, and there’s no putting Godzilla back in the cage now. Carefully crafted versions of self extend into every website that asks you to present a ‘profile’.
I need a care-free and happy selfie for Facebook, a more earnest and diligent selfie for LinkedIn.
But I’ve had to work hard at not giving a toss what people think about me. How do I want people to think about me? I don’t care. People can think whatever they want to think. That’s their story.
Everyone has to come to terms with this sooner or later in this journey. In some ways, I’ve just copped an extreme version of it. When you get up on a stage and put yourself out there, some of the stuff that comes back at you can be pretty ugly… or stupid.
Sometimes I swear I feel like I’ve got a sign that says, ‘Please give me fashion advice’ on my forehead. Really? I’m telling you how to structure your finances so as to achieve maximum asset protection, and you’re worried about the colour of my jacket? Seriously?
All the flippin time.
And I guess people get challenged – in their fears, insecurities or view of the world. And when you’re putting yourself out there – when you’re your own brand – then people seem to feel entitled to have a go at you to make themselves feel better.
And it seems that some people have some pretty painful emotions they need to process. Some people just seem to be d$&kheads.
But a lot of students have to deal with this in their own way, within their own communities. When you step outside the box of conventional living – when you decide you’re going to go it alone as a property investor – people get challenged.
And when people get challenged, the get defensive. And suddenly your sister is blowing up at you for being ‘selfish’ or something.
You’d be surprised how often this happens.
At some point or another, we need to let go of caring what people think about us.
Thankfully, getting older seems to be a pretty good remedy, and it’s an option available to most of us.
That’s part of it. The other part is about being ‘remembered’. I just can’t get my head around it.
It’s like I try to imagine a time at some point in the future when I’m not around, and people are reflecting back on my life and my influence.
Sure, part of me hopes that they’re saying nice things about me. But then part of me is like, ‘what do I care? I’m dead.’
It’s an odd human need to live on after we’re dead. To be remembered by history. People build pyramids and elaborate tombs, conquer the known world, just for the right to be a footnote in the pages of history.
But what do you care? You’re worm-food either way.
Maybe the ego just can’t handle the thought that at some point it just won’t exist.
So I try to avoid worrying about how I’ll be ‘remembered’.
But that’s not to say I don’t care about the world I leave behind. I really hope I can leave the rock in better shape than when I found it. And I do worry about the legacy I’m leaving to my kids and grandkids.
But to have the most impact I need to be different things to different people. All teachers are chameleons. Some people need gentle encouragement. Some people just need a kick up the arse.
Worrying about how I ‘appear’ or how I’ll be ‘remembered’ is just a distraction from the real work I feel I’m here to do.
And I’m pretty sure that pretty soon after I’m dead, my life will be indistinguishable from the rest of the great galactic compost. I’m ok with that.
I’ll just keep my head down and do my best. And trust that good things come of good intentions.
What else can you do?
What do you think? Why do people go to such great lengths to be remembered?
Do you think about the legacy you’ll leave behind? How does it influence what you do?
How do you want to be remembered? (Feel free to get creative!)