What Will You Be Remembered For?

My Grandmother was a piano teacher. She was also a world renowned concert pianist. She was awarded her Ph.D. in Piano Performance from the University of Iowa. She was also a freedom fighter, quite active in the civil rights movement in the south. She was also the author of three books about the life of a blind pianist named Blind Tom Wiggins. She was on the Board of Trusties at Dillard University for many years. She was a college professor at the University of Minnesota for about thirty years and Chair of her department for ten of those.

My Grandmother passed away many years ago. If you asked one of her former students who she was, they would likely say, “Dr. Southall was one of my college professors.” If you asked someone who read her books they would reply, “She was the author of the Blind Tom books.” And, if you asked one her friends from college they’d say, “Oh, the girl who played piano? She was pretty good!”

When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I’m a Writer and a Technology Consultant. I find it interesting that most of them then follow up with questions about either one of those things, but almost never both. If they latch on to the “Writer” they will ask what I write and I’ll direct them to my site and tell them about my books. If they latch on to the Technology Consulting part, they usually want to know if I can help them in some way with their Mac or their PC or their Website. I give them a card and let them know I can help. My bet is that if someone were to ask them only minutes after we speak what I do, they would likely only tell you the one thing that mattered to them.

This goes not only for the things you do but also for who you are. People will remember what mattered. Do you want to be remembered as the guy who screamed and yelled and flipped other drivers off from behind the wheel? Do you want to be remembered as the person who never had a nice thing to say? Do you want to be remembered by your children as a harsh, strict, and unforgiving parent? Of course no sane person would want any of these things — we all have had our bad moments and made our mistakes. Yet, if we do such things often we risk being remembered for them.

We are all many things. We all do many things. We will do many more things throughout our lives. Yet, when we are gone, most will primarily remember only one of them. They will pick from the lot and remember you as that. What they pick will, in their mind at least, be all that you are. Therefore, it is our job to ask ourselves with all the things we allow ourselves to do, with each and every one, “Is this something I want to be remembered for?”

This is why it is important to make “No” your default response to most things. Those things that seem like great ideas should get a “maybe” until they earn a solid answer one way or the other. But “yes” should only be given to those things that, if you were gone tomorrow, you wouldn’t mind being remembered for.

Note: This came out of a conversation I recently had with my friend Jeff Sandquist. You can read his take on it here: What Do You Do?

I’m a writer. Writing is how I make this world better, friendlier, stronger place. If these words improved your day, please let me know by contributing here.

My Approach to Simple Logo Design

I actually find myself designing a fair share of logos for various web and branding projects for myself and clients. I freely admit that I’m not a graphic designer in any traditional sense. I certainly wouldn’t call myself one. I don’t know own or even know how to use Photoshop or Illustrator. When I set out to make a logo for my own use or a client’s, I set the expectations as low as I can. I let folks know up front they will not be getting anything fancy — I don’t do fancy — but they will get something strong, utilitarian, and unique. If they want something more than that, they should hire a real designer.

Yet, when called upon, I design using the simplest tools I know and have at my disposal — various fonts, Apple’s Pages ’09 (which I find far better for this purpose than the latest version), and Acorn. Despite the fact that I don’t consider myself a professional designer and am using what the professionals might consider amateur tools, I’m always proud of and impressed with what I’m able to achieve. Here are a few examples:





In many ways, I think for the purposes at hand it is an advantage that I’m not a professional. I’m forced into the constraints of both my ability and using what I have on hand. In many ways, this forces me to be more creative. To do more with less. And, that is something I believe in.

Of course, if you like the work you see above and think my skills and sensibility are a good fit for your needs, please get in touch.

Situational Awareness

"Pay attention to detail!"

I was in the Navy for a period of my young adult life. It was not as long as I had hoped. A medical issue just a few weeks into boot camp led to an early general discharge. But, boot camp is designed so that lessons that take years in the civilian world are packed into every single day there. I learned so much then that remains with me and makes me a better human today.

One of the ideas that pops up in almost every lesson in military training is that extreme attention to detail matters. That in every situation, focused and unbroken awareness matters. That, in the worst cases, it is the difference between life and death. And so this level of attention to detail is stressed at every turn.

On the way to RTC San Diego, several of the new recruits I was traveling with and I ran into a couple of young soldiers at our layover in Denver. Nervously asking them about what Boot Camp would be like — how hard it would be or any tricks to make it easier — they responded "Just pay attention to detail. If you don’t you will be in a world of hurt." As soon as we arrived on base, and the yelling began, "Pay attention to detail!" was a refrain so constant it could have been a rock anthem chorus being blasted in our ears. And, in those coming days, when punishment would come, it would usually come only when the details were ignored or missed. And as our hands bled and burned from the few dozen push-ups on freshly gravelled blacktop amidst the Southern California heat our ignorance had brought upon us, the number of repetitions due was increased if each and every man failed to execute the punishment with attention to detail and precision.

Because, when it is the hardest to maintain focus — a fire fight, when you are scared and lost, when death is almost certain — is when it is most important to pay attention to every detail and execute extreme awareness in the situation. The safe path away from the battle, the weakness in the enemy defense, the ally you could signal for help, if it’s there at all it is there in the details.

The lesson that remains with me is that this is true of any situation in everyday life. That if an answer exists at all, if not obvious, it is only found by paying attention to the details. If you get into a bind, that will show you the way out. In tough spots, the answer is being mindful and aware of all of the available options. By having situational awareness in every direction you will find the your way out of the darkest certainties.

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