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What They Remember

John Goodell, 2:19 am ET

THERE’S A SAYING in the military: Rank has its privileges. It’s absolutely true. The trappings that accompany the highest military ranks can include aides, personal drivers and even cooks, to name just a few. The best leaders I’ve worked with knew that these trappings were ephemeral and often the result of luck, albeit mixed with hard work and ability.

Not every leader—whether they served in the military, corporate America or elsewhere—understands this. After retirement, Joe DiMaggio famously required announcers to introduce him as the “greatest living ballplayer” whenever he made a public appearance. I always found this sad and a little embarrassing. No one needed to be reminded that he was great. Yet, by doing so, DiMaggio seemed a little less great.

Eventually, we all hang up our cleats, pack up our office or put on that uniform for the final time. Few of us will be remembered many years after our retirement. Indeed, I pass by the pictures of dead Texas politicians every day and, despite my attempts to be a voracious consumer of history, I’ve heard of very few of them. I sincerely doubt more than a couple of people in my building think at all about the photos or who these long-dead leaders were.

Still, we have the opportunity to have a lasting impact—by being good stewards of our profession. I believe we do so by making our best effort at work and by helping others. You’ve no doubt heard the adage, “They always remember how you made them feel.” It isn’t clear who said it first. But the premise resonates with all of us.

The trappings of a job can easily become a trap. But the impact we have on others is what lasts long after we leave.

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Catherine
Catherine
9 months ago

Well spoken.

You’ve hit on teaching’s second most important reward (after the paycheck). Among my former students are mayors, legislators, nonprofit directors, advocates, among dozens of other public-facing and laudable professions.

Same with parenthood for good or ill. Though my youngest is still in high school, I can imagine him and his sisters making real contributions to their communities.

On my desk at home is a piece of Kansas flint from a stone corral built by my great grandfather – for all I know, my own grandmother was set to work on placing it. A reminder of where I’ve come from.

The book of Numbers in the Old Testament has a lot of names. I like to tell my kids that we each came from somewhere and we are going somewhere. Maybe we get a chance to we how we contribute, maybe not. Sometimes a person is just a name in the middle from A to B, but those can be pretty important end points. So best to make the most of each day, as we can’t always correctly judge our own contributions.

The photos in the hallways, the names on bridges and buildings, they might or might not have been great people. There are equally amazing people we walk pass, without recognition of their contributions.

Trappings can be traps! For sure.

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
9 months ago

Beautiful piece, John, and it rings so true. Recently I stumbled on Patton playing on TCM. I hadn’t seen it in years and have always enjoyed George C. Scott so I watched the last part. At the very end, Gen. Patton reflects:

For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.

John Goodell
John Goodell
9 months ago

To IAD’s point below, maybe we could use some of that same ancient wisdom turned guardrails today on all sides of the political spectrum and life writ large. Thank you, Andrew.

Last edited 9 months ago by John Goodell
IAD
IAD
9 months ago

Great article! I think another sad observation are those that never retire, staying on way past their prime. The corporate world does a pretty good job of forcing out those that should retire. Not a political statement, but I can think of a handful of folks in Congress that really should consider enjoying the retirement they have earned.

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