Legacy without Ego
by Bennett Dungan
I’ve been thinking a lot more about what I’d like to leave behind for future generations. Big opening statement I know, but it’s been something that’s occupied more and more of my thoughts as I get older.
I just turned 30, which obviously still puts me with plenty of time left in life to accomplish things but I am looking at it with a sense of urgency, whether that is bad or good. “What will I leave behind for future generations?“, that is an immense question to ask. This question will pose a million different answers depending on who you ask. Lots of people look at their children as a way of passing their life’s torch into the future. Teach your children what is good, bad, what matters and hopefully they take your ideas and evolve with them. Other people will leave us with novels to enjoy and others with paintings that will capture imaginations for hundreds of years after they've passed. A few percent of the population will go along to create hugely successful businesses that move mountains and influence millions of people's lives.
For myself, I’ve been toying with this question from a utilitarian perspective that I hope one day falls into the latter example above. Is there something I can build that can influence a certain portion of the population and nudge us closer to solving X? If so, what do I build? Should I create something new or join a team of people that is already working on something I believe in? These are all unanswered questions and ones I've been chewing on for the past 7+ years since I left college. While I still don't have an earth shattering concept, I am starting to get an idea of what tools I will need in order to accomplish whatever this mysterious objective is.
One realization I had a while back is that the ability to command computers would be valuable as practically everything in modern life is run by code and the leverage with such a skill is nearly infinite. Much of my life lately has revolved around honing this skill set since I know it will be invaluable for me down the road. It's already proved useful in many instances, I've managed to completely change my career trajectory and built a few interesting projects along the way. Since programming as a job is no longer a pipe dream, I've fantasized about how I can use this skill to make something great.
The bigger question is, assuming I do make something worthwhile for many people, what then? Will my life be complete after that? Will I have felt that this is enough? Will my ideas be only a flash in the dark and fade once I've passed? Ideally I'd want to build something that lives on after me even if my name is no longer tied to future iterations of whatever I helped create. I think it would be great to have my name in history books, but that is absolutely an ego stroke if there was one. If that is your goal then you're chasing something for the wrong reasons. I think the better approach is knowing you’re a part of something bigger than yourself whether your sole identity is tied to that process or not.
I think a good subset of people to look at when finding someone who wants to leave an egoless legacy are teachers. I personally remember a handful of teachers I’ve had in the past because they had such enthusiasm and passion for what they were teaching. Teachers have the ability to influence thousands of children throughout their lifetime while having a ripple effect in other areas of that child’s life. If you talk with most teachers, they are driven by helping future generations succeed. They want to be a part of educating and propelling that group of people forward above all else. With such modest salaries, we know teachers don’t do this for the money so there has to be a selfless factor involved with the profession. If you look at some of the greatest thinkers of modern history, most of them were teachers or eventually became ones. One of my favorite people ever is Carl Sagan, his ability to communicate the beauty and mystery of space is something very few people have managed to accomplish. Even though he started out as an astronomer and made some pretty significant contributions to the field, his ideas will live on for years because of how and what he taught others.
Ultimately I do not believe it’s possible to entirely rid a legacy of ego. You have to have some level of self-value to get your ideas across to others, otherwise you’d never have the confidence to make yourself or your objective known to the world. Whether that is starting a charity, creating a business or teaching your child life lessons. Each of these examples requires that you have some amount of value tied to what you personally believe is significant. There’s also an important factor when documenting the lives of noteable people, history is full of interesting folks that should have their names set in stone forever for us to learn from. So I think it all really depends, you need ego to get your ideas off the ground because YOU value them. This intrinsic value in your own idea is apart of the ego, a healthy side of the ego.
Maybe the best strategy isn’t to even think of what you will leave behind and for you to just live life as a good human devoid of the ‘legacy’ concept. Perhaps being absent of this whole ideology is the real way to strip ego from whatever achievements come from just being a decent person. Although, I personally think having a goal gives you something to shoot for and create a path of success out of. As my ramblings may have indicated, I'm not entirely sure of how to go about this whole thing. It’s quite complex and its has a million different meanings and philosophies that cross the bounds of culture and religion. In the end, whether I'm remembered or not, I just hope to make some sort of nudge in a positive direction.