I recently gave an opening keynote about “Pursuing Your Personal Legacy” at PDS Connect 2017. The general idea is that we are the sole author of our Obituary and our Legacy, and I outlined key lessons on pursuing your most worthy and lasting narrative moving forward. It’s been a blessing to hear from so many who attended, which has sparked some encouraging conversations and enthusiasm for our journeys ahead. Within these conversations, I was introduced to another story.
We all know who Albert Nobel is – his last name is known around the globe as his estate annually funds and awards the highest honors of human achievement. While the Nobel Prizes help cement a lasting legacy for Albert Nobel, he was very close to being remembered differently.
In 1888, Albert’s older brother Ludwig died. As news of Ludwig’s death spread, somewhere this became misinterpreted as Albert having passed. In fact, an obituary was produced by one newspaper and it titled Albert as the “Tradesman of Death.” It’s not very often people get to read their own obituary, but clearly this is one that Albert did not like.
By most accounts, Albert was a fine person, but amongst his contributions to the world were the detonator and dynamite. Dynamite was largely used for construction and warfare. But to the majority of public, warfare and destructive outcomes equated to the general public perception of dynamite. Albert had a conflicting role with this in that he produced dynamite, yet thought the very nature of its destructive possibilities would perhaps deter people from having such conflicts. Obviously that didn’t happen. Albert’s distaste for war prompted him quoting war as, “the greatest of all crimes.”
Upon reading his obituary, he became obsessed with changing his reputation and his legacy. Hence, the Nobel Prizes. The financial interest from his estate would be used to fund five annual awards for people who had made the most important discovery each year in four fields and, finally, “one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congress” — the Nobel Peace Prize.
Albert died one year after creating his awards. His last year of life greatly changed how we view his legacy. Essentially the narrative switched from death and destruction, to peace and discovery.
This story helps remind us that our personal stories are not yet finished. In fact, like a good book, you’d be disappointed with a bad ending. Remember that your legacy has not yet been determined. How you approach today, tomorrow, and your remaining days will determine your legacy.