In this article from Table of Ten member, Michael Combs, he explores the legacy we leave behind in our careers.

It’s well known that many of us spend more time at work than we do at home. At home, it’s natural to think about the legacy we leave behind. Will we be a great parent? The best mother or father? The best friend? The son or daughter your parents are proud of? Will we generate assets to pass onto our children or grandchildren?

It’s this focus on our life’s legacy that drives us to be the best person that we can possibly be.

What if we put the same emphasis on planning the tangible and intangible assets that we leave behind in our job or career – our Career Legacy? Would we shift our thinking from the annual ‘performance goals’ we set with our mangers to something we walk away from with enduring pride?  Something bigger then we ever imagined when we started in the job.

Establishing a vision for a career legacy shifts our thinking. It moves us from thinking about immediate goals to a more lasting impact on the organisations and colleagues we work with day in and day out.   Answering the question of what will be the legacy we leave behind in our careers reminds us when times are tough why we go the extra mile. The bigger purpose of why we sacrifice time with friends and family to build a career that we are proud of.

We all know the cycle of the annual reviews – report on last years performance, but only touch on the surface because lets face it its an awkward conversation. We then politely set a few goals and targets for the year ahead. Nothing too scary – after all we want to walk out of the meeting feeling energised about the year ahead. Sometimes we revisit the goals quarterly, or maybe we dust them off once a year and awkwardly report back the progress we made.   The cycle repeats every year, sure as the sun rises and sets every day.

Let’s change the cycle. Let’s think about what’s the legacy we leave behind in our current role.

How will our colleagues remember us when they or we move to other teams or organisations?

Benefits of leaving a career legacy

Our focus on legacy has two immediate benefits. First, it elevates our thinking from task to reputation. When times are tough we don’t focus on the sacrifices we make in our personal lives to power through spreadsheets and project plans. It gives us a reminder of purpose. The purpose of our work isn’t about the product of a project, its about how we want to be remembered. It focuses us on how we want to remember the hours, days and years that we spend at work.

The second benefit of career legacy thinking is how we explain our absence from home and family to our loved ones. We explain to them that we are building a legacy that generations will benefit from, respect and build upon. Our time at work becomes about building enduring programs, policies and workplace cultures. Explaining our career legacy shifts the conversation from absence to sacrifice. I’m sacrificing time with family to build something that I as a person want to have an enduring sense of pride about. We can rationalise sacrifice better than we can talking about the minutia of a specific project.


Getting the objective of a lifelong career can take many forms. It might be posed as a vision or mission statement – To become an engineer who creates an awesome new technology…To be a leader who fosters growth in all those we work with. Or, we define by more definitive measures – Make a difference to a community, Make a change in a whole industry, Be part of something extraordinary. Regardless of its shape, it should be based on pride. It should make you smile when you say it to yourself. You beam when you think about it.

So now that we have defined and built our career legacy, we must protect it. We must shift our thinking when we leave a project, team or organisation from ‘they owe me something’ to ‘I have achieved all that I wanted to.’

Our career legacy can so easily be destroyed in a moment of anger, unless we focused on protecting it. For example, if we leave on bad terms, are we erasing years of work. All that we worked for is erased and we have no enduring legacy.

The mindset of career legacy must endure the good and bad times at work. It has to guide our every interaction from the first day on the job to our final swipe of the security gates. Regardless of the reason why we move on, career legacy allows us to exit with pride.

As the end of the financial year approaches and the ‘review cycle’ begins, challenge yourself and your manager to build a career legacy and move to a legacy state of mind.

Goodbye objectives. Hello Legacy!

Article written by Michael Combs

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