Department: Guest Editorial
At the end of our lives, none of us will wish that we had spent more time at work. The reality? Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work and that commitment should be rewarded with a lasting legacy. Are you working every day to plant the seeds for the next generation of nurses and nursing leaders? I find myself thinking “it's too soon in my career to worry about my legacy” or “legacies are reserved for great people who do great things.” But we all leave a legacy—both in our personal and professional lives—and we're in the driver's seat as to what our legacy will become.
Your legacy will likely be defined by others in ways that you can't even imagine at this point in your career. As nurses, many of us think “we're just doing our jobs” as we go through the day saving lives, improving outcomes for patients and their families, and mentoring future leaders. What we don't often realize is the fact that we're building our legacy one brick at a time with every person we meet, every decision we make, and every step forward we take in our lives.
I recall the story of a mother who's with her 5-year-old son in a coffee shop. She sees a woman in line who she remembers from some time ago. She approaches the woman, confirms her name, and says “I carry a picture of you in my wallet.” Puzzled, the other woman asks, “What do you mean?” The mother responds by telling her, “Five years ago, my son was born premature and you were his nurse in the NICU. You helped save my son's life and I'll be forever grateful.” From her purse, the mother pulls out a worn photo of her premature son and the nurse as both women wipe tears from their eyes. For this nurse, that picture was one of hundreds of pictures she may have been in with various families and patients, but for this mother, the picture was a treasured memory and part of the legacy of the nurse who helped save her son's life. We can't be too busy to cherish these moments.
We never really know the impact we have on people, and this is something that I think about with every interaction I have throughout the course of the day. A warm, sincere greeting or smile may make a lasting impression on a visitor in the elevator who has just learned of her terminal diagnosis. Taking the time to sit with an employee who “just needs to talk” may help that person with a significant personal problem. Congratulating a coworker on her son's recent accomplishment at school may make her day that much brighter. These are the moments that define who we are as leaders. These are the seeds of our legacy.
It has been said that people won't remember what you did to them or what you said to them, but they'll remember how you made them feel. This is the core of what your legacy will become. Be sure you're living it each and every day.