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The Biography of [Your Name Here]: How Will History Remember You?

The Biography of [Your Name Here]: How Will History Remember You?
Rob Wormley
  • On February 20, 2013
  • http://thoughtcirc.us

SCENARIO: It’s 200+ years after your death. A stranger picks up a book with your name on it, and begins reading. It’s a biography of your life. It includes all your successes, all your failures, your relationships, and (perhaps most importantly), it includes a collection of quotes describing the kind of person you were from the people who knew you best.

What stories would the stranger who picked up the book read? Which of your successes will history have remembered, if any? Which failures? And how would the people who knew you personally while you were alive have described you?

In a way, I am that stranger. I recently started reading a biography of a man I never knew personally, who lived over 200 years ago. Although I’m nowhere near being done with the book, what struck me early on in my reading was how this man’s friends, his colleagues, his confidants, described him. Can you guess who is being described in the excerpts below, and who the individuals are who offer their descriptions of the man they knew?

“Although many contemporaries were fooled by ______________’s aura of cool command, those who knew him best shared Stuart’s view of a sensitive, complex figure, full of pent-up passion.”

“His temper was naturally high-toned [that is, high-strung], but reflection and resolution had obtained a firm and habitual ascendency over it,” wrote ______________. “If ever, however, it broke its bonds, he was most tremendous in wrath.”

______________ concurred. “He had great self-command . . . but to preserve so much equanimity as he did required a great capacity. Whenever he lost his temper, as he did sometimes, either love or fear in those about him induced them to conceal his weakness from the world.”

The man is George Washington, American Patriot and one of the Founding Fathers of our country. The men offering their descriptions? None other than Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

The biography is Ron Chernow’s “Washington: A Life.” Chernow argues in his prelude that, “Washington has receded so much in our collective memory that he has become an impossibly stiff and inflexible figure, composed of too much marble to be quite human.”¬†Thus, he states that the goal of his biography is, “to create a fresh portrait of Washington that will make him real, credible, and charismatic in the same way that he was perceived by his contemporaries.”

Chernow’s main goal for his book got me thinking:

What would my contemporaries say about me if a biographer asked them? And would I be content with what a stranger reads  about me 200+ years after my death?

What stories would be included? What successes? What failures? These are important questions one should be asking themselves each day. Was George Washington confident that strangers would be reading about his life 200+ years after his death? Maybe, but probably not. Nonetheless, he left a permanent mark on history. A legacy to be remembered by.

What’s your legacy? What kind of mark are you leaving? How will history remember you?

We all have the opportunity to be the George Washingtons of the future. All of us. There’s no reason why you can’t strive to be better. There’s no reason why you can’t leave your own legacy that survives the test of time. Sure, you might not be President of the United States of America, but you can still make a difference while you’re here. You can still leave you mark. You can influence the people around you in such positive ways that if a biographer ever was to ask them about the kind of person you were, they would have nothing but good things to say.

So again, I will pose the scenario and ask you to think seriously about the questions underneath it:

SCENARIO: It’s 200+ years after your death. A stranger picks up a book with your name on it, and begins reading. It’s a biography of your life. It includes all your successes, all your failures, your relationships, and (perhaps most importantly), it includes a collection of quotes describing what the kind of person you were from the people who knew you best.

What stories would the stranger who picked up the book read? Which of your successes will history have remembered, if any? Which failures? And how would the people who knew you personally while you were alive have described you?

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