The word that has kept coming up for me lately is legacy and based on the news events of the past week I can see why. Britain begins life extricated from the European Union. There are celebrations and fear as the country looks inwards, turning its back from the views beyond the White Cliffs of Dover. Only the future will be able to see what the legacy of this great experiment will be. It was with legacy in mind did the country even begin this debate, trying to secure, for better or worse, a future fit for 21st century living.
Unfortunately, a legacy of our past, and to some extent our present, is playing out in terrifying scale with the coronavirus claiming hundreds of lives in China. In a 2015 TED Talk, Bill Gates revealed government complacency meant the world was unprepared for a pandemic, saying, "If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it's most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes. Now, part of the reason for this is that we've invested a huge amount in nuclear deterrents. But we've actually invested very little in a system to stop an epidemic. We're not ready for the next epidemic." And then a Netflix documentary that aired in November last year outlined specifics of a viral epidemic originating from wet markets in China.
It seems as though we are living with our eyes closed to worrying situations as long as they don’t have a direct affect on us. Until they do. And often then, we are playing catch up. How we live, how and what we consume, the pressure we place on our systems, they're all having a direct effect on our health and the result is deadly. We cannot afford to live in our little bubbles anymore. Our world is inter-connected in so many ways. What is happening in one part of the world has a direct impact on another. What is happening to one person can have a direct impact on another.
That sentiment was perhaps felt globally when news broke of the death of the sporting legend Kobe Bryant. The former basketball star was killed in a helicopter crash. Fans expressed their utter shock and grief at the loss of an icon who transcended the sports world. The impact his life had on many went beyond the courts and had much to do about our ability to traverse through life with focus and meaning. Bryant once said, “The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do.” And he did. But he also had a story that wasn’t as straightforward.
Kobe Bryant made mistakes. And while there has been a reluctance to talk about those mistakes (a Washington Post reporter even received death threats for bringing it up), denying their existence would be a disservice to the man he became because of them. There is a great article posted on the NBC News website, that explores how that one transgression, that one fateful decision and its aftermath spurred Bryant on to a path where he focused on doing better, being better, and becoming the man we now admire and forever celebrate. Perhaps that is more his legacy—overcoming his faults and weaknesses to be the champion in hearts and minds for future generations.
Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse in Australia found after caring for dying patients, said the biggest regret many have as their life comes to an end was, “I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” She wrote about those conversations she had with those patients in her book The Top Five Regrets of The Dying. It is only when we are able to see that our actions have a profound impact on others whether we know it or not, however small a scale it may be, it is only when we see that how we live can influence others, can we then start to live with meaning, with purpose, and with the knowledge that it all matters.
It is with that kind of thinking that we see Novak Djokovic approach his life on and off the tennis courts. The New York Times describes him as “the searcher” when putting him alongside his two main competitors Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Djokovic’s game has changed since he began competing in 2008. He has gone from a man with a take-no-prisoners attitude to one who is searching for meaning beyond titles and achievements. He sees tennis as a platform from which he can be more than a champion tennis player, redefining the road to success through finding peace of mind, body, and soul.
Perhaps what attracts us to those who exhibit greatness, whether they are athletes or the average Joe, is the ability to live fully and with meaning. The late Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen taught his students in his management classes to think about their life holistically, asking them to always keep in mind what is important in life, even in business. He wrote in the Harvard Business Review in 2010 in an article called 'How Will You Measure Your Life?', “Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people. Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.”
I read that last sentence again. “Think about the metric by which your life will be judged…” I believe for me, my metric is my son. I want him to think of me as someone with the courage to try, to fail, to follow my instincts, to go against the grain and choose to slow down, redefine success, and to be a positive presence to those around me. In doing so, I am hoping I am setting an example for him to do the same. I am hoping I am providing him with a roadmap, a path, and even the vocabulary to be whoever he wants to be and to live consciously. That, I hope, is my legacy.