Two Types of Legacy

We’re not getting any younger. How will you be remembered?

Jack Bogle, creator of low cost index mutual funds, died yesterday at 89. In Warren Buffett’s opinion, Bogle did more for the American investor than any person in the country by putting “tens and tens and tens of billions into their pockets.” “And those numbers,” Buffett added, “are going to be hundreds and hundreds of billions over time.”

As a self-taught investor, I’ve learned more from Bogle’s writing than from every other financial author combined.

Bogle’s direct, tangible legacy, low cost passive investing, is something that generations of investors will benefit from in perpetuity.

Just as generations of Pacific Northwest citizens will benefit in perpetuity from a local group’s incredibly effective activism that saved Olympia’s LBA Park from being turned into one more housing development.

A second type of legacy is less direct, tangible, and obvious; but equally meaningful. It entails living so exemplary a life that one’s descendants, and others, seek to emulate the deceased person’s attributes.

In the winter, much to the Good Wife’s dismay, I keep the house cooler than she’d prefer. Recently, when I pressed pause to think about why, it took about five seconds to realize it didn’t have anything to do with Jimmy Carter or our household’s economics. I realized it was one small way of honoring my dad’s frugality that stemmed from his Eastern Montana upbringing. A tribute of sorts. My dad never had to tell me to live below my means because he modeled it so persuasively. I want to be humble like him, just as I want to be one-tenth as generous as my mom.

Yesterday I listened to Dan Patrick interview Ian O’Connor author of Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Coach of All Time (so much for humble titles). My interest in football is waning, but Patrick is a great interviewer and O’Connor was insightful. One thing O’Connor said is that both Belichick and Brady are intensely conscious of their respective legacies.

Which got me thinking. I bet Jack Bogle was not intensely conscious of his legacy. I know for sure that Don and Carol Byrnes were not. My plan is to try to do good work, and even more importantly, be a good person, and let my legacy take care of itself. If I’m lucky, someone, sometime, will seek to emulate an attribute or two of mine.

What Lance Armstrong Can Say to Oprah to Make Things Right

Nothing.

Apart from a simple “sorry for the long-standing deception,” Lance doesn’t owe me, or any professional cycling fan, anything.

Why do we continually delude ourselves to think we know the entertainers, athletes, and politicians we follow? That we’re in some sort of relationship with them? That when their moral failings become painfully evident, that they let us down?

Remember Tiger Woods awkward, post-rehab, public confessional in some Florida hotel conference room? The one with his mom in the front row. The one where he said he “kinda got away from his Buddhism (one of my favorite understatements of all-time)?” What was that all about? Tiger didn’t pledge to be faithful to me or you or even his corporate sponsors.

The bright light public confessional is all about limiting the damage to one’s personal brand, and by extension, earning potential. To reset as a human being, Tiger would have been far better off listing all the people he had hurt and then seeking each person’s forgiveness outside the media spotlight.

At 41, Lance is in trouble if he needs advice on how to reset as a human being. I’m offering it anyways. He won’t follow it because he doesn’t read this blog regularly enough, and like all of us, he’s highly skilled at rationalizing his behavior. He tells himself, “If it wasn’t for my success, Hamilton, Landis, Andreu’s wife, and even my masseuse and others involved with the sport wouldn’t have made nearly as much money.” In his mind, his accusers are indebted to him.

Forget Oprah Lance. And forget your athletic career (triathlon has a long ways to go before it reaches “fringe sport” consideration). Resolve to be a more kind, empathetic, and truthful person. Take time to make a detailed list of everyone that you’ve directly hurt as a result of your words, actions, and privilege. People who you repeatedly lied to. People you bullied on and off the bike. People whose reputations you trashed. People whose businesses you ruined. Then come clean in a written mea culpa, a no holds barred confession. In it, take complete responsibility for hurting those people as a result of their truthfulness.

Send it to the New York Times. Then buy however many plane tickets necessary and travel to see everyone on the list. No matter how much it cuts into your triathlon training. Seek their forgiveness as personally and privately as possible.

Do that and the tide of public opinion will begin to turn. But don’t do it for that reason. Don’t even do it for your children or your legacy. Do it to reset as a human being, for the sake of human decency, to live the second half of your life in a more kind, empathetic, and truthful manner.

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