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Legacies - Who's Life Is It, Anyway?

by Deborah Rinner, Vice President, Tero International


"It is more a matter of believing the good than of seeing it as the fruit of our efforts." - Chuang Tzu, China, third century

Legacies. We create daily what we will eventually leave. The real influence of our work more often than not is closely related to whom we are and the times we live in.

It is not uncommon to find men and women who have left visible legacies which trace back to the roots of their youth. Ideals and situations from their childhood often show up later in their successes. Charles Schultz, the creator of the lovable and profitable Peanuts comic strip is a good example. The world dearly loved and appreciated the bits and pieces of his life woven together in the form of his comic strip which became a twenty million dollar business. From Schultz's alter ego Charlie Brown we learned lessons, smiled, and saw our own lives differently due to his vision. We remember him for it.

It is said in Schultz's online biography that from birth comics played an important role in his life. At just two days old, an uncle nicknamed him "Sparkey" after the horse Spark Plug from the Barney Google comic strip, and throughout his youth he and his father shared a Sunday morning ritual reading the funnies. Schultz was very proud when Ripley's newspaper feature, Believe It or Not, published his drawing of the family dog in 1937 at age fifteen.

Charles Schultz fell madly in love in his teens with a red headed girl who influenced the characters of Lucy and Peppermint Patty in his cartoon strip. His experiences in life were not always happy (this declared first love married another man, a loss haunting Schultz all his life) but these experiences reflected in the character interactions of the strip became the brick and mortar of his business and his legacy.

Legacies often greatly illustrate the times we live in. On a recent obituary page of the New York Times, was a write-up of Richard Graham, who was remembered most for his efforts in 1965 to abolish sex-based employment advertisements. "Help Wanted Male" and "Help Wanted Female" ads were no longer legal by 1968 in the U.S. due to his efforts. Throughout his life Richard went on to manage The Center for Moral Education at Harvard, founded the Goddard - Cambridge Center for Social Change at Goddard College, and served as an advisor to a Washington based Council for Research in Values and Psychology among many other accomplishments. Yet what he did for gender equity, for which he was first and most remembered, specifically colored and was colored by the times he lived in.

Alongside Grahams obituary was a story of Natalie Gleboff, Director of the School of American Ballet in New York. Hired by George Balanchine in the 1940s, her Russian background (she was born in Romania) and experience living and adapting in the U.S. (she came to New York with her U.N. Interpreter husband after World War Two) created her legacy. Natalie was remembered for bringing a "perfect blend of dynastic order and new world energy" to carry out Balanchine's principles while directing the growth of the ballet company from the 1940's to the 1970's. The ballerinas of the school remembered her as "tempering her Russian authority with wisdom and kindness". In the U.S. and Soviet social climate of the times, she brought to her work knowledge and expertise of Russia, ballet, Balanchine, and adaptation to the U.S. few others could in those years. The times we live in do help determine the legacy we leave to the world.

When then does ones legacy really begin? Look at yourself, your life, your work, and reflect on this. What aspects of your present day legacy are rooted in your early experiences and/or the times you are living in? How much of who you are, or when you are living has influenced what you are to the world? Recognizing the influence of your life experiences, and the necessities of the times you are living in places you on the path of a legacy only you can leave. You have everything you need within and around you to shape and paint what your legacy might be. Visible and noted by the world or not, your legacy will be uniquely your own. What you will be remembered for is something the world and those around you are in need of and are waiting for, right now.


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