Everyone would like to be remembered for something, regardless of whether it’s as a great parent or friend; or as someone that had some positive effect on the world during his or her time on it.
So it stands to reason that if you come to the end of your life and the message on your headstone states your name, your date of birth and the date of your death, you will have failed horribly in achieving that goal.
The average stranger would no doubt deduce that you were merely present on this Earth between those two dates, but not much more.
What’s worse, however, is that someone a little more intuitive would note that there’s nothing more that even your family and loved ones could say about you than merely stating that you were present for a specific length of time.
In effect, your effect on this world would have been nil and in my opinion it would be a terrible waste of a life.
So how do you change that?
Well, it’s quite simple, really — you begin gearing every single decision and choice behind that single goal; that one thing for which you want to be remembered.
While the concept is simple, implementing it is a little different. It affects all manner of things you would have never thought it would.
Take, for example, choosing the goal of being the best parent you can be to your children. Everything you do consciously or not needs to be aligned behind this.
It means that although you might believe the best thing you can do for your children is to provide a sound financial platform for them and, as such, need to spend long hours at the office, they might well need you to spend more time at home.
It gets a little more philosophical than that. How could you possibly be the best parent to your children if you smoke? Today, there’s conclusive proof that smoking shortens your lifespan and it’s naive to believe that smoking doesn’t increase your risk of contracting cancer.
Surely your children want you in their lives for as long as possible? Surely it’s unfair to make them suffer through your protracted illness and death, caused by lung cancer?
If you start thinking honestly about the mark you’d like to leave on this world and society, setting your goals and making the right decisions becomes easy. Having the courage to stick to those choices is more difficult.
It’s not just humans that should avoid “presenteeism”, however. It’s a concept that applies to businesses, countries, governments and political parties alike.
Take for example the members of the South African government that were responsible for apartheid. Until the end of time, they will be remembered for the pain, suffering and injustice that their ideals caused for so many.
And here’s the more important fact — everything positive that came out of that era, such as the stimulation of the internal economy and the infrastructure that was created under it, is swept under the carpet.
The effects of these things pale in comparison to the effect that apartheid had on South Africa. And that’s the primary reason every action and choice needs to be influenced by that ultimate goal and legacy you want to leave behind, regardless of whether you’re a person, country or company.
Another thing to bear in mind is that circumstances are not important — how you react to your situation and what decisions you make, however, are.
Let me give you another example. Zimbabwe, today, should have a positive story to tell, one that hails it as a champion in beating colonialism.
Instead, the choices the country has made have created a reality that’s completely opposite. The circumstances — that is, the fact that the country conquered colonialism — have nothing to do with the label Zimbabwe bears today.
South Africa finds itself with an opportunity to change the largely negative story it has today (despite being able to lay claim to one of the most awesome transitions to democracy ever) to a positive one, but it needs to be positive.
Thankfully, South Africans are naturally positive people. That hope we have as a people is the key to making our country’s story a positive one. And we must do everything we can, as a people, to protect that hope.
Negativity can kill that hope — so we need to make sure that we tell positive stories.
We have an opportunity to change things around, but it depends on us, and more importantly on whether we as citizens are going to be involved, or whether we’re just going to be bystanders.
I don’t know about you, but I think the former sounds most appealing.