What stories are others telling about you now? What stories will they tell in the future?
John Lewis was a legend who left a legacy to be remembered. He lived his life in a way that was meaningful to him and memorable for others.
If you read about his life, John Lewis started creating his legacy decades ago. He was consistent in his words and actions. His words were congruent with his actions. As he told the Harvard graduates in 2018 in his commencement speech:
“You are never too young or never too old to lead. We need your leadership now. Speak up. Speak out. And get into trouble — necessary trouble.”
As Sir Issac Newton said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” This story is an example of that.
As Obama left his swearing in ceremony in 2008, Lewis approached him with a sheet of paper and asked the new President, the first black President, to sign it. And he did. He wrote, “Because of you, John. Barack Obama.”
I believe Lewis knew he was a role model for others. He knew what he said and how he acted would be well documented. I also think he was intentional about the legacy he was leaving on a regular basis. He wanted to live a life worth remembering.
We will be reading about John Lewis now and in the future. He left a legacy based on the life that he lived. This was said about Lewis:
“No one, over a long lifetime, gets everything right. John Lewis has come as close as anyone.”
Which is why the news of his illness and now death was so painful news. He was about as good as it gets when it comes to leaders using the moral compass to guide them.
All Legacies Are Not Good
It is easy to think legacies are always good. Some people fall from grace and some can rebound such as Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods.
A story that caught my attention was of Andrew “Jack” Whittaker Jr. who won a record $315 million Powerball jackpot on Christmas night in 2002. He died in July 2020 at the age of 72.
According to the media, Whittaker became an instant celebrity when he claimed the largest U.S. lottery jackpot won by a single ticket. He opted for a lump-sum payout of $113.4 million after taxes. He was flying around to appear on network TV morning shows.
It is common for many people to say, “If I could only win the lottery, I would …”
Well Whittaker won the lottery and his life was full of scandals, lawsuits, and personal setbacks. He encountered numerous requests for money and realized he could not trust people. He was often quoted as saying, “I wish I had torn up the ticket.”
Really? WOW! Why?
According to news reports, “his wife left him. A friend of his drug-addicted granddaughter was found dead at his home in 2004. Three months later, his 17-year-old granddaughter was gone, too.
His daughter, Ginger Whittaker Bragg, died in 2009 at age 42 after struggling for years with cancer.
And in 2016, he lost a Virginia home to a fire.
He struggled with drinking and gambling. His home and car were repeatedly burglarized. At a strip club, thieves broke into his Lincoln Navigator and stole a briefcase stuffed with $245,000 and three $100,000 cashiers’ checks.
That time, at least, he caught a break — the briefcase was later found, with the money still inside.
Whittaker was charged twice with driving while under the influence and sued repeatedly, once by three female casino employees who accused him of assault.”
It appears Whittaker lost his moral compass. It seems he was not looking at himself as a role model. He didn’t seem to be intentional about what he was doing until it was too late.
In a 2007 interview, Whittaker was talking about how his legacy was not what he wanted. He knew his legacy was already written.
“I’m only going to be remembered as the lunatic who won the lottery,” Whittaker said. “I’m not proud of that. I wanted to be remembered as someone who helped a lot of people.”
Whittaker had 13 years to change his legacy. While difficult, it can be done.
In 2020, the funeral parlor said his death was from natural causes, but would not disclose where or when he died. Interestingly, Whittaker was a self-made millionaire before he won the lottery. But being a lottery winner overrode any other memory of him.
Whittaker wanted to be remembered as someone who helped a lot of people. We will likely never know if he did this or didn’t. But it is sad that he is not remembered in the way he desired.
“The life you lead is the legacy you leave.” Jim Kouzes
How do you want to be remembered?
What stories are people telling about you now?
What stories will they be telling about you in the future?
You are leaving our legacy daily whether you know it or not. And your legacy is not necessarily positive!
I call this your Breadcrumb Legacy™.
It is never too early or too late to start thinking about living a life that matters.