The word legacy has been synonymous with death to me. When so and so dies, we discuss their legacy. I had a powerful experience that changed my mind on this word that is befitting for this Legacies column.
Seven years ago, I was sitting in a room of powerful women and I was the youngest one there. I wasn’t sure how I got there, but I was glad I did because it changed my life. At the time, I was panicked. The exercise was called “Craft your legacy statement.”
But, this exercise was different. The ask was to “live into your legacy.” Craft a legacy statement in THREE minutes that summarizes what you want your legacy to be … and then decide the three things you need to do now to get there. So, here is my exact legacy 3-minute statement: I am an innovator pushing teaching hospitals to optimize training and patient care delivery through novel technologies and systems science. Clearly, I did not aim high enough. One of the other attendees stated her legacy simply as “Unleash the impossible!” So clearly, I was not able to think big at that moment, but I trudged on.
Next, I had to write the three things I was going to do to enact my legacy today. Things went from bad to worse quickly since I knew this was not going to be easy. The #1 thing had to be something I was going to stop doing because it did not fit with my legacy; #2 was what I was going to start doing to enact this legacy now; and, #3 was something I was going to do to get me closer to what I wanted to be doing. So, my #1, resign my current leadership role that I had had for 8 years; #2, start joining national committees that bridge education and quality; and #3, meet with senior leadership to pitch this new role as a bridging leader, aligning education and quality.
Like all conferences, I went home and forgot what I had done and learned. I settled back into my old life and routines. A few weeks later, a plain looking envelope with awful penmanship showed up at my doorstep addressed to me. It wasn’t until after I opened it and read what was inside that I realized I was the one with horrible penmanship! I completely forgot that I wrote this letter to myself even though they told me it would come and I would forget I wrote it! So, how did I do? Let’s just say if the letter did not arrive, I am not sure where I would be. Fortunately, it did come, and I followed my own orders. Fast forward to present day and I recently stepped into a new role – associate chief medical officer: clinical learning environment – a bridging leader who aligns education and clinical care missions for our health system. Let’s just say again, had that letter not arrived, I am not sure where I would be now.