My birthday is coming in just over one short month with the reminder that one more year is in the books. In addition, I have recently watched as several people in my life have entered into retirement and have been in awe hearing the story of their professional lives.
One dear colleague shared with me that she was a professional model for much of her early career and how it helped her later in her professional life with being bold and confident. I was so impressed. In fact, she was the original “Pampers mom” in the advertisements when they originally launched that brand. I was amazed. What a wonderful bit of knowledge about someone I had known for years that I just didn’t know.
My mind wonders to funerals – you know, because I’m just happy and chipper like that. Have you been to a funeral of someone that you really didn’t know. Maybe it’s a colleague or friend that lost a family member that you didn’t really know, but out of respect you came to the funeral. I’ve had a few of those funerals in recent years, and I find myself always curious to know more about the life of the person being remembered. But no, their story is theirs and no longer one for me to learn. At least, not from the first-person perspective.
My mind wonders to my grandparents and the lost stories I didn’t know to ask them to tell. My paternal grandfather was a welder and I often spoke with him about his life and younger years, but I have no idea what a day in the life of Jim McLemore was truly like. Surely he had a best friend at work – one that he told jokes to and shared lunch with. And what was his favorite lunch? Did my grandmother pack his lunch with something he particularly liked, or maybe hated but didn’t have the heart to tell her? I don’t know. And I don’t suppose I’ll be able to find out now.
I know this is coming off as depressing a bit, and it is. I don’t mean to. But I’m feeling awful sentimental and also beginning to have a fresh perspective on life.
Here’s the sad hard truth: you, your life, your experiences, your work – it’s all soon to be forgotten.
Ouch, that is harsh right? And I know many will be offended by my saying that. But unless you somehow find yourself positioned among the very few in history that will not be forgotten, like George Washington, William Shakespeare, Adolph Hitler … you will be soon forgotten.
I spend a great deal of time and effort truly trying to do good work. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t. But I care about my work and doing it well. I find myself sometimes staying late or laying in bed at night thinking about some work problem in an effort to do my very best. And that’s a good thing. But it’s also, frankly, stupid. I mean, it’s not because I get paid to do a great job. But what’s stupid is how much I care when I’m not being paid at the moment to care. When, in fact, my attention, my passion, my action should be focused on my family and my God.
You see, I talk a good game.
I like to tell folks that my priorities are God, family, work – in that order! But my life would show that to be a complete lie. It’s not an intentional lie – but a lie none-the-less. I spend far more of my time thinking and focusing my time, energy and passion on work. Again, it’s good to do a good job. It’s what they pay me for. But I’m realizing with each passing day just how stupid it is to let my work define me. To find my identity in work.
And the reason I share this is, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one doing this.
If I walk into work tomorrow, quit on the spot and move on with my life, I will soon be forgotten in the chambers of the Children’s Medical Center Foundation. And one day that will happen and be true. Sure, people may occasionally remember something I did that they are reminded of. Maybe it will be something along the lines of “gosh, glad that guy isn’t here anymore!” Regardless, I will soon be forgotten. All the work I was so passionate about – it will go on without me. Or maybe it won’t. But my contribution to it – forgotten.
Now, just because I’ll be forgotten, doesn’t mean the work isn’t worth doing – that my efforts are in-vain. However, it does mean that I should be focused on what is worthy of my time, energy, passion and attention. And I already know the answer – God, family, friends. These are the people that will always be with me.
I think a real easy test is this – if you were to die tomorrow, who would still miss you in a year, or five years, or ten years? Who? Those are the people you should be investing in.
What work is it that you are doing or could be doing that people will miss if you were to die tomorrow? What is it they would miss in a year, or five years, or ten years? Well, then that’s the work you should focus your passion on.
I wish I knew the name of my great grandfather – and his father. Or my great grandmother – and her mother. What they did for a living. Were they funny or serious? Smart or a little dumb? Sweet or a bit naughty? But the history books don’t contain that information. Rarely do they even on the historical figures of which they write about.
I recently heard a radio interview with a young man (in his early 20’s) and he is interviewing the surviving WWII veterans. He’s asking them about their life and the war and recording that for the world to know. What a wise young man. We should do the same with the people in our lives. And we should write it down or record it on audio/video, so that future generations can know who these people are/were.
But thanks be to God, many of my family and those who came before any of us will be there in heaven to share these stories. I truly look forward to hearing them.
Until then, they are, sadly, forgotten.