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They called him "Chief"

The other day I was sitting at the funeral for my big brother’s father-in-law. I didn’t know him well, but I learned a few things as I listened to his sons and daughters speak about the man they called Chief. He wasn’t a famous man or, in the scheme of things, an important man. But Chief left his family a legacy that should set every one of us to thinking.

Chief, his descendants told the gathering, was a mentor and role model to his 12 children and forty-some grandchildren. He gave the same advice to all of them:

• don’t wait around, take the initiative;
• always do your best; and
• leave things better than you found them.

That’s the way this former marine, business leader, and community volunteer lived and, by doing so, planted a simple, but valuable, footprint on the earth—one that offers a path to build on the foundation he created throughout his life. 

Like Chief, are we living the life we aspire to live? And are we creating a personal legacy to pass on our values to the people we love and to the future generations of our family and friends? Eighteenth-century author John Allston may have put it best: “The only thing you take with you when you’re gone is what you leave behind.” What Chief left behind for his family is as tangible as gold, with a value that cannot be measured. There could be no greater inspiration.

Your personal legacy is a reflection of the values you live and the way to pass on the lessons you’ve learned over your lifetime. If not you, who will share the insights gained from your successes and failures, the vision for your hopes and your dreams? The wealth of your wisdom is too important to lose.

In my experience, we could all be more conscious of how we’re living each day, and what we choose share in both our saying and our doing—or not saying and doing. This everyday life is what creates the legacy we want people to remember. 

Legacy extends beyond family and friends. Your values and actions, and how people experience them through you, create a personal brand that makes an impact wherever you go. You can have a positive effect on your community, your business and, depending on your reach, around the world. It’s up to you to decide where your personal path should leave an impact.

So, how will people describe my legacy at my funeral? Or yours? Thinking about it reminded me of the 1998 comedy, Waking Ned Devine, where a friend impersonating the dead Ned in order to keep his lottery winnings wonders something like, “Wouldn’t it be grand if you could attend your own funeral and hear what others have to say about you, and perhaps say a few words yourself?” Of course that’s only possible in the movies, but by living more intentionally I think we can almost accomplish what Ned’s friends set out to do.

We can all be Chief of our own legacy, starting today.

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Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Kathleen Quinn Votaw serves on the Board of Directors for both the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) Denver and Colorado Companies to Watch. She is also founder and CEO of TalenTrust, a Denver-based professional services firm that helps high growth companies solve the people puzzle.TalenTrust offers strategies to attract, retain and engage talented people. Reach Kathleen at kvotaw@talentrust.com or 303-838-3334.

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