The Problems with Legacy Leaving

The Problems with Legacy Leaving

Now that there are more and more people who are older, lonely, socially isolated and depressed, we are seeing lots of articles encouraging people to mentor or do something that "leaves a legacy". Consequently, intergenerational websites, platforms and organizations are growing. The lost tribe of medicine is no exception.

However, there are some problems with doing things to leave a legacy:

  1. Like your business strategic plan, life gets in the way and we live under conditions of uncertainty. It is impossible to predict how what you do will leave an impact, if any. Socrates said “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think”.

  2. Doing things so people will remember you once you are gone puts the focus on the future, not the present. It's more fulfilling to live things, not leave them, and let the cards fall where they may. Plus, while you might have helped remove some people's obstacles to success or happiness, most of their success can be attributable to them, not you. Maybe, for example, you helped awaken their innerpreneur. Truth be TOLD, most of your protege's success probably has more to do with luck than anything you did.

  3. It is unlikely that people will remember who you are 100 years from now.

  4. Mentoring is not always effective. Not everyone is cut out to do it and there are several reasons why mentoring fails. Sure, when it works, mentoring helps both the mentor and the mentee, like helping to soothe burnout.

  5. Legacies are hard to scale. I think most are lucky if you make a difference in the lives of a handfull of people.

  6. Leveraging your impact relies on someone you helped pass it forward. Many will drop the baton so it's a numbers game. Like innovation, success in legacy leaving depends on how many times you try and that can be frustrating and disappointing.

  7. Doing volunteer work to help others is admirable. However, while twenty-five percent of American adults volunteer, that number is at a 10-year low—putting extra strain on the 85 percent of nonprofits that rely exclusively on volunteer staff to manage the services constituents depend on. For this reason, it’s more important than ever that nonprofits figure out the best ways to attract and retain volunteers.Volunteers want convenience, time defined outcomes and demonstrable impact.

  8. Entrepreneurial psychopaths run the risk of passing along bad behaviors instead of good ones. The result is the lonely leading the lonely.

  9. Dealing with narcissistic "successes" is hard. Here are some tips on technique.

  10. There are few insulting or brutally truthful eulogies. They are not like failure resumes.

Helping other people is a good idea and doing well by doing good is not a sin and has a long history. When it comes to legacy leaving, focus on the now, not the next and new.

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs.

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  • Alice Frampton

    Just today I was thinking about this...

  • Robin Zalinger

    Legacies transcend the boundaries of time.

  • Dwayne Jones

    Inspiring post

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Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA

Former Contributor

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is a professor emeritus of otolaryngology, dentistry, and engineering at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Colorado School of Public Health and President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at He has created several medical device and digital health companies. His primary research centers around biomedical and health innovation and entrepreneurship and life science technology commercialization. He consults for and speaks to companies, governments, colleges and universities around the world who need his expertise and contacts in the areas of bio entrepreneurship, bioscience, healthcare, healthcare IT, medical tourism -- nationally and internationally, new product development, product design, and financing new ventures. He is a former Harvard-Macy fellow and In 2010, he completed a Fulbright at Kings Business, the commercialization office of technology transfer at Kings College in London. He recently published "Building the Case for Biotechnology." "Optical Detection of Cancer", and " The Life Science Innovation Roadmap". He is also an associate editor of the Journal of Commercial Biotechnology and Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurship and Editor-in-Chief of Medscape. In addition, He is a faculty member at the University of Colorado Denver Graduate School where he teaches Biomedical Entrepreneurship and is an iCorps participant, trainer and industry mentor. He is the Chief Medical Officer at and and Chairman of the Board at GlobalMindED at, a non-profit at risk student success network. He is honored to be named by Modern Healthcare as one of the 50 Most Influential Physician Executives of 2011 and nominated in 2012 and Best Doctors 2013.

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