What You Leave Behind

At a non-profit organization of which I’m a member, we are looking at a major capital campaign (or at least major for us), of more than seven figures, and I am on the committee to look into the feasibility of this. We investigated various consulting firms to help us, and selected three to interview. The three firms brought in a total of seven people. All the firms were well-qualified, and all of the professionals involved had impeccable credentials. When the interviews were over, the committee met to discuss and, without conferring ahead of time, we went around to see who we thought should be awarded the consulting job. Of the seven of us, six picked the same firm. As we each explained our reason, it boiled down to one particular woman who would be our primary contact. Each person spoke of how, in a fairly quiet but confident and earnest way, she had made us feel like we would be successful with her. I was struck by this: With all the money, experience, and credentials involved, it boiled down to someone who engendered trust and a personal connection. I think interpersonal aspects are a large factor in business and in life, though it’s not always so apparent and therefore underrated.

We live in a world where people become brands, where the objective for everything becomes to monetize it (I’m not sure that word existed 20 years ago), and where only that which can be quantified counts.  Or at least one would think based on media reports.

In truth, though, stories such as the one I’ve recounted above play out every day. Somewhere, someone will make a sale because she told the truth.  Someone else will stand up to say, “Yep, I really messed up.” And someone else will sacrifice a little ego in order to do that right thing.  Such people are not hard to find, but they may not always stand out.

What are the characteristics of those who can make a real connection and, in the process of doing so, go about their business in a way that gives it meaning?  Humility, honesty, thoughtfulness, and quiet confidence all come to mind.

At some point, each of us needs to decide in what arena we’re going to compete. Is it for power? Recognition? Money? None of these things are evil unto themselves.  They do, however, put us much closer to a cliff of selfishness than where we would want to be in the end.

Let me ask you this question:  What kind of eulogy would you want delivered at your funeral?  “This was a fellow who knew <insert skill here> better than anyone else and made sure you knew he knew.”  “You could always count on her to push her agenda forward.”  “He always wanted to be in charge, front and center.”

Instead, I think of what has been said about Eve Carson, former student body president at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who died in a senseless murder in 2008:

“If Eve were here and she didn’t know you, she would make an effort to know you. She would ask ‘What is your passion? What do you want to do with your life?’ And before you left, you would know each other”.   (Former Chancellor James Moeser)

“What matters most is who did you inspire? Where did you make your mark in this world? Eve made her mark, and it’s evident in every person you can talk to.” (Her friend Hogan Medlin)

“When Eve turned up 30 minutes late, or did something irritating, she would give you this look of appeal, her infectious smile in the lead, and you could not stay mad…Eve was concerned about you.”  (Her friend Aaron Charlop-Powers)

“When she left a group, Eve would always say, ‘See you,’  — not ‘See you later’ or ‘See you tomorrow’ — just ‘See you.’ But it was perfect, because what Eve did was see all of us and see the world and see the beauty, excitement and the potential to do great things.”  (Her friend Anita Lassiter)

I mention Eve because she was only 21 years old when her funeral took place. By that time, it had already been determined what would be said at her funeral, and what you see above conveys the tenor of how she is remembered.

It would be a mistake, of course, to try to be someone else. It would be a bigger mistake, though, not to be the person you want to be, the person you want to hear described by your family, friends, and colleagues when your brief time on Earth is over. What would you want people to remember about you?  And what will you do to make it so?

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