What Do You Want to Be Remembered for?

The Curious History of the Nobel Prizes: Alfred Nobel Changed His Likely Legacy from “Merchant of Death”

Alfred Nobel Changed His Only Likely Legacy from The Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel (1833–96) is most remembered in the awarding of Nobel Prizes every year. The spur for the Nobel Prizes apparently came from a remarkable incident of careless journalism.

Nobel patented the explosive dynamite in 1867. Before long, he became very wealthy as the owner of a vast international explosives empire.

In 1888, Alfred’s brother Ludvig died. A French newspaper wrongly announced Alfred’s death instead under the title “Le marchand de la mort est mort” (Eng. trans. “The merchant of death is dead.”) The article called him the “dynamite king” and reported, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”

Upon reading this obituary, Alfred Nobel was so distressed at the prospect of how the world possibly could remember him. He wanted to leave a better legacy for himself and rewrote his will. Nobel left 94 percent of his estate to institute five prizes to celebrate the greatest achievements in chemistry, physics, physiology/medicine, literature, and peace. (The “Nobel Memorial” economics prize was instituted in 1968 by the Sweden’s central bank.)

Make a Conscious Intention to Embrace the Spirit of Your Life’s Work

'Managing the Nonprofit Organization' by Peter Drucker (ISBN 0060851147) Peter Drucker (1909–2005,) the 20th century’s leading thinker on business and management, advocated self renewal through the probing question “What do you want to be remembered for?” in his Managing the Non-Profit Organization:

When I was thirteen I had an inspiring teacher of religion who one day went right through the class of boys asking each one, “What do you want to be remembered for?” None of us, of course, could give an answer. So, he chuckled and said, “I didn’t expect you to be able to answer it. But if you still can’t answer it by the time you’re fifty, you will have wasted your life.”

I’m always asking that question: “What do you want to be remembered for?” It is a question that induces you to renew yourself, because it pushes you to see yourself as a different person—the person you can become. If you are fortunate, someone with moral authority will ask you that question early enough in your life so that you will continue to ask it as you go through life.

Your Life’s Work Becomes the Essence of Your Legacy

'Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society' by John W. Gardner (ISBN 039331295X) Emphasizing self-renewal and its inhibitors, the American intellectual John W. Gardner wrote extensively about the need to embrace change for personal enrichment and fulfillment. In his seminal Self-Renewal: the Individual and the Innovative Society (1964,) Gardner encourages a sentient attitude toward the future to kindle self-renewal:

For self-renewing men and women the development of their own potentialities and the process of self-discovery never end. It is a sad but unarguable fact that most people go through their lives only partially aware of the full range of their abilities. … Exploration of the full range of our own potentialities is not something that we can safely leave to the chances of life. It is something to be pursued systematically, or at least avidly, to the end of our days. We should look forward to an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our potentialities and the claims of life—not only the claims we encounter but the claims we invent. And by the potentialities I mean not just skills, but the full range capacities for sensing, wondering, learning, understanding, loving, and aspiring.

Idea for Impact: Asking, “What should be your legacy?” is a Great Self-Actualizing Exercise

The English novelist Jane Austen (1775–1817) wrote in Mansfield Park (1814,) “We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.”

One single spark in your mind has the potential to alter your life forever. Inspire your personal renewal by contemplating the following questions: What do you want to be remembered for, 5-10-20 years from now? What should be your legacy?

Without doubt, you can’t tell your future—you really don’t even know what’s going to happen next. Even if you make a deliberate plan, it probably won’t succeed because reality will regulate your plan. In spite of this life’s uncertainties, reflecting on the question “What do I want to be remembered for?” can help you become more intentional in your behavior and more mindful about your life’s purpose.

Lessons on Self-Acceptance from Lee Kuan Yew: Life is What You Make of it

'From Third World to First: The Singapore Story' by Lee Kuan Yew (ISBN 0060197765) Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew (1923–2015) was one of the greatest statesmen of the post-WWII era. As Singapore’s quasi-authoritarian leader, Yew transformed his small, resource-poor city-state into an economic powerhouse. (I recommend Yew’s excellent memoir From Third World to First: The Singapore Story.)

Yew’s reply to a question about his perspective on the meaning of life (8:50-minute mark in this video) includes nuggets of wisdom on self-acceptance.

Life is what you make of it. You are dealt a pack of cards. Your DNA is fixed by your mother and your father … . Your job is to make the best of the cards that have been handed out to you. What can you do well? What can you not do well? What are you worse at?

If you ask me to make my living as an artist, I’ll starve, because I just can’t draw… . But if you ask me to do a mathematical question or to argue a point out, I’ll get by. Those are the cards I was handed out, and I make use of them.

Don’t try and do something you are not favored by nature to do.

Pursue Perfect Acceptance, Not a Perfect Life

One of the most effective ways to make positive change in life is to recognize and make peace with parts of yourself that are not innate (or “hard-wired”) in you. Robert Holden emphasized in Happiness Now, “Happiness and self-acceptance go hand in hand. In fact, your level of self-acceptance determines your level of happiness. The more self-acceptance you have, the more happiness you’ll allow yourself to accept, receive and enjoy. In other words, you enjoy as much happiness as you believe you’re worthy of.”

  • 'Now, Discover Your Strengths' by Marcus Buckingham (ISBN 0743201140) Know your limitations. Despite the nudging of countless motivational speeches, you can’t learn to be competent in everything you attempt or think you have a passion for. You can only be great at a few things. Recognize your flaws and do what you’re good at. Indeed, your strengths contain your greatest potential for growth. As Marcus Buckingham argued in his bestselling Now, Discover Your Strengths, discovering and pursuing your strengths is vital to being happier and more productive.
  • Learn to play the hand you’ve been dealt. Don’t engage in wishful thinking. Don’t cry out, “If I only life were different … if only these problems wouldn’t exist, I would …” One of the great realities of life—one that is difficult but important to acknowledge—is that you do not have as much control in life as you would like to have.

Idea for Impact: The key to self-improvement is self-acceptance. Accept reality. Accept yourself. Identify the limits of your abilities and your time and say no to things you know you can’t do well.

What Is the Point of Life, If Only to Be Forgotten?

While traveling around the magical Norwegian Fjords and contemplating life one day last summer, I recalled a young man’s story. He had spent many years in an Indian prison despite being acquitted because everyone had forgotten about him.

What Is the Point of Life


In 1988, Pratap Nayak was arrested at the age of 14 after getting caught in a violent clash between two rival families in his village in the state of Orissa. A corrupted lower court promptly sentenced him to life imprisonment.

Thanks to the Indian judicial system’s sluggishness, it took six years for a High Court to pronounce Nayak innocent. Unfortunately, nobody informed him or the prison officials about this judgment and his lawyer had died during the intervening years. Nayak’s family had assumed helplessness and lost touch with both him and with the lawyer.

Nayak remained in jail for eight more years after acquittal until a prison system auditor realized that Nayak wasn’t supposed to still be in prison. When he was finally freed at age 28, he was astonished and said, “no one bothered about me … not even my own family.”

When Nayak was finally reunited with his impoverished family of bamboo craftsmen, his father cried, “How shall I take care of him? We don’t get enough to eat ourselves. Had he completed his education, he would have had a good job by now. They ruined his life.”

“Life’s but a walking shadow … then is heard no more”

Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, Lines 22–31) contains one of the most eloquent expressions of our lives’ cosmic insignificance:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

The Meaning of Life

What Difference Does It Make What We Do with Our Lives?

Whenever I’m enjoying the splendor of the mountains and the waters—as I did in the Norwegian Fjords—and marvel at how these natural elements came to be millions of years ago, I meditate upon the fact that what we identify as our lifespan is but a tiny sliver in the grand timeline of the cosmos. We’re born, we live, we die, and then, as Shakespeare reminds us in Macbeth, we are “heard no more.”

In the grand scheme of things, everything is pointless, irrelevant, and ultimately insignificant. Our lives are impermanent and almost everything that most of us accomplish during our lives will someday become obsolete and be forgotten.

Yet, we rouse ourselves out of bed every day and engage in various activities that are all somehow tied to a purpose or mission—a mission we’ve either consciously created for ourselves or subconsciously accepted as an assignment from somebody. Central to this mission is that we hope to bring about more meaning to the lives of people around us.

This mission imbues us with a sense of purpose—invariably, it is a manifestation of a strong desire within ourselves to bring value, meaning, and joy for others and ultimately for ourselves as well. Even the prospect of smiling, complimenting, or expressing gratitude to another person feels good and adds to our own happiness because we know we’re adding more meaning to the other’s life.

The Key to a Life Well-led Is to Make as Big a Difference as You Can

Idea for Impact: The Key to a Life Well-led Is to Make as Big a Difference as You Can

The utmost measure of a life well-led is how you use your unique talents to do the most good you can. Enrich your life by trying to make a difference. Better yet, try to make the biggest difference you can. Perhaps if you’re fortunate enough—as the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Bill Gates were/are—your contribution can create ripple effects and create an enduring legacy that lasts long after you’re gone.

If you want to be remembered and appreciated for having contributed something to the world, strive to live in the service of others and make the largest possible positive difference you can. That’s the key to a life well-led.

Leaves … Like the Lives of Mortal Men

Spring and Autumn - The renewal of the elements of nature

Spring and Autumn not only call to mind the renewal of the elements of nature but also remind us of the brevity of life and the temporal advancement of life.

The past is immutable and the future is yet tenuous and undefined. Memories of the past are full of triumphs and regrets while anticipations of the future are full of hopes and fears.

If we lose ourselves in memories of the past or fantasies about the future, we lose valuable experiences that take place in the present moment. As I mentioned in my previous article “Present Perfect,” we don’t remain completely in the present.

The change of seasons reminds us of the Buddhist concepts of transience and impermanence—that everything is impermanent—everything, including our own selves. Somehow, we refrain from acknowledging our own impermanence and resist confronting our own mortality.

'The Iliad' by Homer, tr. Robert Fagles (ISBN 0140275363) In Homer’s epic The Iliad, men die at an astonishing pace in various battles. During the Trojan War, when the Achaean commander Diomedes confronts the Trojan lieutenant Glaucus, the latter reflects,

Like the generation of leaves, the lives of mortal men.
Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth,
now the living timber bursts with the new buds
and spring comes round again. And so with men:
as one generation comes to life, another dies away.

Source: “The Iliad” (6:171) by Homer, tr. Robert Fagles

Idea for Impact: The passage of time induces us to confront our own mortality. Considering our own morality is a useful tool to guide our present actions. It reminds us to appreciate and live each moment purposefully and wisely.

Recharge Your Self-Growth through a “Plan of Conduct” à la Benjamin Franklin

In Boston at age 12, Young Benjamin Franklin became a printer's apprentice with his brother James Franklin Young Benjamin Franklin’s formal schooling was incomplete. He pursued education through voracious reading. In Boston at age 12, he became a printer’s apprentice with his brother James. At age 17, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia seeking a fresh start and initially worked in several printer shops around town.

At age 18, Franklin traveled to London to acquire some equipment for establishing a new newspaper in Philadelphia. However, the sponsor soon withdrew from the project; so a disappointed Franklin remained in London working as a typesetter. In 1726, at age 20, he decided to return to Philadelphia to strike out on his own.

Benjamin Franklin’s Organized Action Plan for Efficiency and Success

At the threshold of adulthood, Franklin ruminated on the kind of man he wanted to be. During his time in London, he was deeply unhappy that his life had so far been disorderly because he had never outlined a design for how to conduct himself. During his 11-week voyage from London to Philadelphia, he applied his methodical mindset to develop some rules for self-improvement and called them his “Plan of Conduct.”

Those who write of the art of poetry teach us that if we would write what may be worth the reading, we ought always, before we begin, to form a regular plan and design of our piece: otherwise, we shall be in danger of incongruity. I am apt to think it is the same as to life. I have never fixed a regular design in life; by which means it has been a confused variety of different scenes. I am now entering upon a new one: let me, therefore, make some resolutions, and form some scheme of action, that, henceforth, I may live in all respects like a rational creature.

  1. It is necessary for me to be extremely frugal for some time, till I have paid what I owe.
  2. To endeavor to speak truth in every instance; to give nobody expectations that are not likely to be answered, but aim at sincerity in every word and action—the most amiable excellence in a rational being.
  3. To apply myself industriously to whatever business I take in hand, and not divert my mind from my business by any foolish project of growing suddenly rich; for industry and patience are the surest means of plenty.
  4. I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever, not even in a matter of truth; but rather by some means excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasions speak all the good I know of every body.

'The Benjamin Franklin Reader' by Walter Isaacson (ISBN 743273982) Franklin’s “Plan of Conduct” was a precursor to his constant quest in self-improvement, as documented in his “Autobiography” (1791.) A few years later, he supplemented his plan with a “Moral Perfection Project,” 13 guidelines to motivate himself to be more virtuous and strive for moral perfection.

These first few pursuits of self-improvement and reflection weren’t a passing fad for Franklin—he adhered to these rules for the rest of his life. He was proud that he had the wisdom to develop and commit to them so early in life. He reflected in his “Autobiography” (1791,) “It is the more remarkable, as being formed when I was so young, and yet being pretty faithfully adhered to quite through to old age.”

Idea for Impact: Create Your ‘Plan of Conduct’

Create your own rules for living and commit to them for a life of success and wisdom. The values you establish for yourself will align your actions with your goals and dreams and so reduce regrets of overlooked opportunities.

Recommended Reading: For a great collection of the writings of Benjamin Franklin, including his “Autobiography”, see Walter Isaacson’s “A Benjamin Franklin Reader”.

[Time Management #4] Budgeting Your Time by Your Priorities


This article is the final article in a series of four articles that presents the basics of diagnosing how you tend to spend your time and how you can develop the discipline of spending your time on what really matters to you. Here is a synopsis of the preceding three articles.

  1. The first article established that effective time management is truly not about managing time as such; rather, it is about managing priorities. See full article here.
  2. The second article outlined a simple exercise to help you track how you use your hours and minutes during a suitably long period of time, ideally a whole week. See full article here.
  3. Yesterday’s article described three steps to tally up your time logs, analyze how you actually use your time, and recognize non-productive tasks and activities. See full article here.

Today’s closing article details a simple process to list your life’s values and priorities and create a time budget to help you center your actions on the truly important aspects of your life and career.

Define Your Values and Priorities

A great deal of anxiety and stress in your life is largely from doing things that are inconsistent with what you believe and what you know you should be doing. Your lack of control over your time stems from doing things that are incoherent with your core values and priorities in life and career.

Matching your actions to the truly important aspects of your life will help you be more focused, more disciplined and more effective. With this objective, spend about 15 minutes to reflect on your life and career, clarify your short- and long-term goals and discover your overriding priorities.

Having a good time with family and friends

Identify Your Priorities in Life

  1. With the help of your spouse or significant other, catalog the core values that you hold dear — the guiding principles of your life. Include personal characteristics, traits and achievements you desire to realize in the short-term and the long-term. Your list many include family, career success, well-being and happiness, prestige, wealth, sense of community or anything else that you feel is important.
  2. Rank your values and goals. Sort your list in order of their importance to you. Begin with most important value or goal and end with the least important. Judge between conflicting values to help you commit to ideas and activities that are truly important. Condense your list to 7 to 10 priorities.
  3. Rewrite your priorities in terms of actions and achievements that would satisfy each priority or the associated value. Consider the following example.

Example 1: Top Three Priorities of Linda, a Housewife

The previous article on time analysis featured Linda, a housewife who works part-time. Consider this list of her top three priorities in life.

  1. Husband and daughter. “Love and care for my husband. Support his career and goals. Nurture our daughter and give her the best upbringing.”
  2. Family and friends. “Provide for my aging parents. Support my entrepreneur-brother. Spend more time with dear friends.”
  3. Part-time work. “Learn and contribute in my profession as an accountant. Supplement family income.”

Identify Your Priorities at Work

Your desire to be productive at work should begin with understanding your most important tasks in terms of what your role demands of you.

  1. Collect your job description, your boss’s and your employees’ job descriptions, your organization’s objectives, any metrics that you report on a regular basis, your recent performance reviews, and your documented career plan. Review these documents.
  2. List and rank your priorities. What does your role require of you? What goals have your boss and your organization set for you? What are your key projects and initiatives? How your organizational objectives direct impact your own work? Do not list any more than three major priorities (priorities that require 25% of your time or more) and two minor, comparatively less-significant priorities.

Example 2: Top Priorities of Kumar, a Middle-Level Manager

The previous article on time analysis featured Kumar, a middle-level manager at an aerospace company. Kumar aspires to reorganize his time, adopt productive means to get his work completed by working no more than 45-48 hours per week. Consider the following list of his projects, in order.

  1. Project A
  2. Project B
  3. Coaching and developing team members
  4. Initiative M
  5. Project C

Stress and time pressure caused by disparity between actions and priorities

Realize How Your Current Actions and Priorities are Incoherent

The root of the feeling of being under constant time pressure is the disparity between your actions and priorities. You tend to take advantage of almost every opportunity that comes your way, irrespective of the significance of these opportunities in relation to your core values.

Compare your time log and time analysis report with your list of priorities and decide objectively how much time each of your activities was worth to you in contrast to the time you actually spent on it. You may realize that, perhaps, 80% – 90% of your time is wasted in non-effective activities.

As you review your time analysis report, think about everything that you do that should not be done at all or should not be done by you and recognize all the non-productive, wasteful activities. You will realize that you have been spending time instead of investing time in what really matters.

Resolve to eliminate all activities and commitments that are not aligned to your priorities. For example, Linda — the housewife referred above — spent six hours each week volunteering on the curriculum committee at her daughter’s school “just to be involved.” She realized the lack of value in spending six hours every week on an activity she did not contribute much and decided to withdraw from the committee. Kumar, the middle-level manager, spent way too much time attending meetings. He decided to attend only the most important meetings where his presence was truly required, participated via telephone wherever possible and spared 10 hours on his weekly calendar.

Budgeting how you want to use your time

Prepare a Time Budget to Schedule Your Priorities

A time budget helps you decide how your hours should be used given the priorities you have identified for yourself. This is the first step in exercising more control over your time and your life. Preparing a time budget could be as simple as deciding how many hours you would devote to each of your priorities, or could be as complex as setting up your weekly calendar to reflect your priorities.

  1. Beginning with your top priority, setup appointments in your calendar and block-off as many hours of the week that are necessary for your priorities. If your most important priority in life is family (it should be,) first allot time for all the activities you desire to do or share your family — set aside time to coach your kids in basketball, set aside time to help your spouse with chores around the home, etc. At work, schedule time to work on your most important projects and initiatives.
  2. Locate your most important tasks hours when you tend to be most efficient. For example, if you tend to work best in the mornings, schedule your most important projects for the mornings.
  3. Schedule time for your minor projects and lower priorities around your major projects and higher priorities. Decide on the right time to do email, run errands, conduct regular staff meetings, etc.

Your time budget should essentially serve as a guide for how you will spend your time. As with a financial budget, you may not necessarily comply with your time budget. Nevertheless, it is important to prepare a time budget to help you direct how you should spend your time.

Your time budget will help you decide how you can live your priorities. You will realize that by complying with your time budget, your use of your personal time improves dramatically; you are able to focus and reduce anxiety.

Example 1: Time Budget for Linda, the Housewife

Linda prepared the following time budget to help her comply with her stated priorities in life. She eliminated or reduced activities that did not directly contribute to her priorities or were not as productive. For example, she

  • ‘found’ six hours by quitting from the curriculum committee at her daughter’s school
  • saved four hours by seeking her husband’s help to clean her home and hiring a landscaping service to tend to her yard.
  • reduced her time watching TV and on the internet.
  • ‘discovered’ more time for her family and friends, exercise and well-being.

Time budget example: mother with part-time work

Example 2: Time Budget for Kumar, the Middle-Level Manager

Kumar, who previously could not “get it all done” in over 65 hours each week at work, reorganized his calendar around his most important projects and prepared the following budget for 45-48 hours of productive work per week.

Time budget example: middle-level manager

Wrap-up: Managing Priorities (and Time) Effectively

This series of articles on the basics of time management described a simple and effective process of logging and analyzing how you use your time, and budgeting your time around your priorities. This process reveals time wastefulness and provides a structure to help you focus on your chosen priorities.

Your personal and professional values and priorities change often based on your progress in life and career. Plan to perform a detailed time analysis regularly — ideally once every six months, — monitor your time, review your priorities and adjust your time budget. Keep your focus on achieving the top priorities.

Effective time management

In sum, time management is, simply, an orderly discipline of controlling how you spend your most valuable resource. The singular purpose of this quest is to regulate the pace of life, reduce unwarranted stress, organize your actions and responsibilities according to the main values and priorities in your life, and realize a meaningful, purpose-driven life.