When to think about legacy

Orly Mercado

Posted on October 20, 2007

When to think about legacy

Knowing how involved I am in the raising of my son, my mother-in-law sent me a note, with a short description of the stages of human personality development. Now don’t get me wrong. I think the world of her. She has long retired as a college dean. But I guess, once a teacher, always a teacher. I clipped and posted it where I could not miss it.

This is how it looks:


Infancy (0-1 yr) Affection “I am what I am given”

Toddler (1-3 yrs) Assertion “I am what I feel freely”

Play Age (3-5 yrs) Affirmation “I am what I imagine”

School Age (6-11 yrs) Appreciation “I am what I can do”

Adolescence (12-20) Acceptance “I am I”

Young Adult (20-34) Affiliation “We are what we love”

Middle Age (35-65) Importance (to be needed) “I am what I care”

Old Age (65—) Integration “I am what survive of me”

The last stage is obviously all about legacy. It may be true that thoughts of how we will be remembered naturally come at the final stages of our mortal existence. But for most of us it is too late. It is a folly to think that we can cram our good deeds in the waning years and stamp it as our legacy. Look at how Presidents begin to talk about legacy when they are already lame ducks.

In November 2000, when Philippine President Erap Estrada was being impeached on corruption charges, I spoke to him about legacy. In spite of the growing disclosures of evidence, he appeared to be upbeat about the trial in the Senate. I was alone with him in his office when I told him that after the trial ends, and if he gets acquitted, his mantra should be: legacy. Of course, I did not know that by that time, it was really too late.

Whether in the public or private sector, there is likelihood that leaders are remembered for their worst mistakes in the short term. In the long term, as the successors stumble and commit their own blunders, the best things the leader did, come back as pleasant memories.

Even if my mother-in-law’s chart says we tend to think of what survives us when we are in our mid-sixties, we can be assured of leaving a legacy only if we start building one early. The time honored advice is for us to “live like today is the last day of your life.” Then, one does not have to worry about legacy.

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