This journal entry has gone through a few drafts. What started out as a retrospective on my changing goals in life (quick summary: at age five it was to become a superhero, and at age 37 I’m still trying to figure it out) turned to thoughts of how much of a legacy people actually leave. In thinking about this topic, it seems that a “legacy” is often evaluated based at least partially on luck. Consider someone like Steve Jobs – he was clearly a visionary, he obviously changed the world, and like almost any successful person this was due to a combination of hard work, determination, and intelligence. However, had he stayed at Reed College, or had his first venture into personal computing failed, the name “Steve Jobs” might mean nothing to us today. He undoubtedly still would have lived a notable life, but a man who is today universally revered as a visionary would not have been known to the world at large. In no way do I want to diminish the impact of someone like Apple’s former CEO, but it’s an interesting thought to realize that people you view as having “left a legacy” are often just one or two accomplishments away from relative obscurity.
If a lasting legacy requires at least a small amount of luck, it is also true that a far larger amount of perseverance, hard work, intelligence, and ability to seize opportunities is required. Thus, while it might be a disappointment to my five year old self to discover that his older counterpart lives a happy but relatively un-notable life, the older version of that superhero-wannabe is able to take some pride in still trying to achieve great things, and still making an effort to leave a positive mark on the world. Simple math shows that most people will not make a significant impact on humanity, but it is only those who continue to strive that have any chance of successfully doing so.