What do you want to be known for?

Tom Hall and his partners grew Ensslin and Hall Advertising into one of the top regional advertising agencies in less than a decade. The core of their success was the question that Tom asked every new client: “What do you want to be known for?” That’s great advice for marketing and advertising, but it’s great life and career advice, too. 

What do you want to be known for? Do you want to be known for being kind, smart, successful, bold, or intuitive? Would you prefer to be compassionate, insightful, disciplined, or steady? 

You can call this your “personal brand.” I like to think of it as the stories people tell about you. No matter who you are or what you do or where you work, people will tell stories about you. 

What Are You Known for At Home?

It’s easy to get caught up in work and miss doing the important things at home. It’s especially easy if you’re ambitious and you love your work. 

When my kids were little, I was on the road a lot. I thought everything was okay. Then, one Sunday after church, an older woman asked my daughter, Debbie, “What does your daddy do?” 

Debbie twisted her foot around and bit her lip while she thought about how to answer. Finally, she brightened up and said, “He goes away!” 

That was like a kick in the stomach. The kick was especially hard because she was right. She didn’t just mean that I traveled a lot. She meant that she and her siblings weren’t getting the time from me that they wanted. I was known for going away.  

I needed to make changes. Looking back now, it’s obvious that if there hadn’t been that horrid moment after church that day, I might not have made them. I was “Daddy who goes away” and that would eventually have become “Daddy who doesn’t care.” It’s too easy to find one more trip to make or one more thing to do at work. 

It’s easy to miss the stories that your family is telling. If you ask them directly, they’ll tell you everything is fine. They love you. They want to be supportive. And they will be right up until the moment they’ve had too much. Then it’s too late to change what you’re known for. 

Since you can’t find out by asking your family, think it through yourself. What do you want to be known for? How would that person act? 

What’s Your Legacy?

My friend Terry Moore likes to describe legacy as everything you leave behind “besides the cash and the keys.” My father used to say that you’re alive as long as people tell stories about you. Your challenge is to make those stories good ones. 

Alfred Nobel made his fortune as the inventor of dynamite. His company manufactured explosives and sold them to governments.  The governments killed people with Alfred’s explosives. Like most of us, Nobel didn’t get much feedback about how people felt about him. He probably ignored any feedback he got. Then his brother died. 

Several newspapers thought Alfred was the brother who died. Most of their headlines said something like: “The merchant of death is dead.” 

That was a wake-up call for Alfred, and he changed the way he lived and what he did. Today, we remember him for the Nobel Prizes and his humanitarian work. 

You’re not likely to get a wake-up call like Alfred’s. You must do the hard thinking about what you want to be known for and what you must do to make that happen. That’s hard. It takes reflection and self-examination. It won’t happen overnight or even over a weekend. In fact, work on the stories they tell about you is a lifetime effort. 

What do you want to be known for?

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