People, as they age, begin to worry about their legacy. How will they be remembered? Will they be seen as having lived a life of value and consequence? Will they be appreciated for having lived a life of purpose and accomplishment? Were they a good worker? A good spouse? A creative person?
Of course, their curiosity is doomed to failure since they won’t be around to see how their legacy plays out. In addition, our legacies are experienced differently by different people. Here is an example.
Tom McGee died in October of 2021. Dr. McGee was an esteemed psychologist with a long history of outstanding contributions in Chicago, where he was the State Director of Mental Health, and in San Diego, where for many years, he ran the mental health clinic at Mercy Hospital before moving on to Alliant University. He was described as a creative administrator, gifted clinician, and wise supervisor.
I didn’t know Tom well, but I sought his counsel several times over the years when I was in complicated situations. Of course, I was well aware of his accomplishments, and I had tremendous respect for him. He was very helpful to me.
Years before he died, Tom was invited to participate in a program created by the San Diego Psychological Association. The Association asked outstanding psychologists to share their life stories with members who gathered for an evening of dining and fellowship.
The gist of Tom’s presentation was his lifelong struggle with self-esteem. He didn’t reveal information about himself inappropriately, but he spoke humbly, factually, and without fanfare.
So, what impressed me? It wasn’t the content of his talk, though his struggle did surprise me; it was the courage he showed in being transparent in front of more than a hundred people. He was honest and authentic. He was telling his story as he had lived it.
This was his legacy for me.