“impact”

A lot of people I meet say they are motivated to create a legacy or create an impact on the world. I am not sure I believe it. If you ask them a few questions, I am not sure they believe it either.

Here is how the conversation may go. I ask them what they are motivated by, and they talk about big picture stuff like changing the world and making an impact and leaving a legacy. Great…I do not quite roll my eyes because of course there is some amount of courage it takes to say those sort of bold words (and some sort of nod towards selflessness in saying that your primary motivation in life is to help others…at least that is what you are saying). But then I ask them what they mean by that…I try to actually and genuinely understand their intentions. Like what would success look like?

I sometimes bring up the invention of the Stirrup. I made it a proper noun just so you know that I am talking about that thing that you hook your leg into when riding a horse. You probably do not know much about the Stirrup. Most people do not. Most people do not know much about the history of the Stirrup, either. It was invented in the medieval times. I read a book about technology developed during the medieval times and the stirrup (fine will stop capitalizing) stood out as one of the most important inventions during those centuries. It fundamentally changed warfare and trade during the time (WHY that is is perhaps another story, or you could google it). It was literally an absolute game changer for Europe.

And yet…

Many of you reading this probably have already scrolled away. Because it is boring to many. And beyond that…you probably do not really care who invented the stirrup. And you probably do not know. And you probably never will know (in fact, there is no certain inventor of the stirrup).

This is all to say that said person who invented the stirrup is not at all relevant by name. Neither is the person who invented the soccer ball (another one of the biggest inventions in the history of the world that goes under appreciated in many ways).

All this is to say — when people say that their motivation is legacy, I like to figure out precisely the scope of that. Is it for their particular name to be remembered, is it the work they did or a part of to be remembered? And by who?

These answers fundamentally change the scope and level of ambition required for what you are doing to actually be feasible. Most people — and I bet it’s actually lower than I could imagine — know very few people born 200 years ago. And by know, I literally mean by name (not by story, as that number is likely even less).

Now you could say that your scope is to leave a legacy for your own family to remember. Sure…but nowadays like most people do not know much at all about their grandparents, let alone parents’ actual stories.

So this all brings to question the feasibility or importance of actually prioritizing “having your name remembered.”

The reality is that your name will not be remembered. You can aim for that, but be precise around who.

The other reality is that most all of your work will not be remembered. That is unless you can do something extraordinary. But for the vast majority of people — even people we view as relatively successful today — their work will vanish and turn over and be entirely replaced by newer work.

Funny how that works. Weird how that works. Really puts a spotlight, though, on the notion that a good motivator is legacy and/or long-term impact.

Now it is possible. But most of these tech businesses are lying to themselves. Like they are not here to have a mission that leaves an impact for any enduring period of time. No way. Think of how many tech companies from the 1990s are still around. That was 30 years ago. And they are all gone.

Not because the people who started them are evil or like straight up liars. I do not believe that necessarily. But I do believe that this glorification of missions around making the world a better place and then slowly fading in the abyss of history is not an authentic experience for people (and honestly a giant waste of resources).

And so I believe in stratification to more extreme poles. I think that people going for changing the world should really aim with that vision in mind — and then the people not going for it, should really not lie to themselves or those around them that they really care about long term impact.

Now it is still valuable to have short term impact. Because without short term, we will have no long term. But I still view them as different orientations. And being honest with yourself and working backwards from an end state that you actually believe in and are excited for — I think will help you be A) more self aware and B) to that end, actually get what you want.

A lot of the time people are aiming for something that they do not actually care about or are not actually motivated by. They find an incongruence between the things that would actually excite them and then the outcomes they are achieving. This is the result of miscoordination between their heart and brain and actions.

There is a better path. Which is radical honesty — not even with the world around you, but with you. It starts with you. A lot of people try to outsource this — they try to tell others to figure it out for them.

But it starts with you. And starts with being honest with you. Not always easy, but certainly makes life clearer.


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