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You don’t have to be rich and powerful to leave a legacy. You really just have to live life with your eyes open. Many of us brush up against people with needs. We see situations where we can, with a little effort and cost to ourselves, make a dramatic difference in life for other people. The world often changes one person at a time.

Ernestine worked in The College of William & Mary’s dining hall when I was a student there. She knew so many students’ names and would regularly greet us with a big smile and a “Hey there, Boo!” A collective grandmother of sorts, she was a legend in her own right. Whether she was swiping cards on the way in, restocking the salad bar, or serving mashed potatoes at the hot line, you knew you could find a warm greeting and a listening ear. While I was a student, she had a stroke. She and her family faced serious financial challenges in trying to provide her with medical care. A group of 19- and 20-year-old students organized a benefit concert—recruiting ten campus acapella groups to sing and collecting thousands of dollars in donations for Ernestine’s medical care.

Photo of the Wren Hall of the College of William and Mary.
The Wren – The College of William & Mary

The highlight of the event was when Ernestine’s son brought her into the concert hall, where she was stunned to find that the show was for her, and that the campus community had assembled to return a little of the love she had shown us over more than two decades she worked at the dining hall. Not only were we able to show our love for her, but we were also able to tangibly help her in her time of need. Her life in a low-paying, unglamorous job touched many people over the course of decades, through her steady, consistent, and compassionate service.

Sometimes we leave a legacy through actual substance of our work and sometimes by influencing people we come in contact with in work or our community. How many people do you know who on their deathbed say, “I wish I’d spent more time at office”? Your legacy is created when you get beyond seeing work as simply work and a means of earning a living.

Excerpt from Sweet Spot: Finding Your Career at Any Age, Adapted from page 50

Co-authored by Bruce Dreisbach and Katybeth Lee. (Buy the book)


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