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How To Write Your Legacy - Lessons From a Cowboy

By Barry Pruitt

    Sun, Jul 17, 2016 @ 12:00 PM Accountable Leaders & Teams

    I’m going to miss my uncle Frank. He was born August 20, 1921, near El Paso, Texas. He was the last man How to Write Your Legacystanding (except for my generation) in the family tree, and "tree" is a fitting descriptor for Uncle Frank. Standing well over six feet, Frank’s history was a well-written legacy. Recently, I was struck at his graveside that his legacy was written long before that day. It was a legacy written word-by-word, chapter-by-chapter, over 94 years, 9 months, and 22 days. Frank was a character, but I digress. The question is, are you writing your legacy while living, or waiting for the obituary once you’re gone?

    We all want to be remembered, to feel that we’ve made a contribution to this world. For some, this is the driving force for great contributions. For many, what pushes us is a yearning to leave a legacy. We’ve all seen buildings, bridges, streets, and coliseums named after someone that left a legacy. Yet a legacy that matters is about far more than material things. Writing a legacy often requires forethought and decisions and always requires action.

    Let’s examine some of the lessons we can learn from Uncle Frank: a cowboy, patriot, husband, father, grandfather, and entrepreneur. He wasn’t just one of these, he was all.

    Lesson 1: Start Now and Challenge Yourself Often

    Frank left home with his brother at age 14 and moved to Odessa to begin his adult life. 

    Lesson 2: Consciously Choose What You Stand For - Your Core Values

    Frank later joined the navy (under) the accepted age of 18 and served in the South Pacific on the USS Lyra during World War II. Upon his return was a member of the American Legion.

    Lesson 3: Be a Mentor AND a Mentee

    I heard it in all the graveside stories as people from all walks of life joined to honor Uncle Frank. He was a mentor and a mentee. A mentor by definition is a more experienced or knowledgeable person in an area of expertise. A mentee accepts the experience and knowledge of someone else and chooses to be open to feedback. Sometimes these relationships last a lifetime, even when the mentee has moved on to influence others.

    Lesson 4: Create a Culture or History Book

    Uncle Frank created a business culture and had past employees visit him 20 and 30 years later. As you create your business culture, pass on the memories of the journey, and enrich the understanding of new players. Unless you purposefully capture your business genealogy, this piece of the legacy will be washed away over time by the waves of business challenge.

    Lesson 5: Maintain Your Integrity No Matter The Cost

    There is nothing that you take to the grave with you. You leave it all behind. The number one thing you leave is your reputation and your (good) name. As I heard stories from others about Uncle Frank, many revealed that he had a discipline of making a clear distinction between right and wrong, and always consciously choosing right. You’ll often be tempted to cut corners and take the easy route. Don’t do it.

    Lesson 6: Only Take Calculated Risks

    Uncle Frank was honored by his peers and inducted into the Texas Restaurant Association Hall of Honor in 1995. He founded The Green’s Restaurant, Green’s Hamburgers, Antlers Coffee Shop, and the West Texas landmark, The Barn Door Restaurant. Uncle Frank purchased the train station in Pecos, TX, and had it moved to Odessa where it was attached to the Barn Door Restaurant as a theme bar.

    In just about every area of life, you must risk in order to gain the reward. You place your capital, energy, credit, and reputation at risk in order to grow your business. With Rhythm, we help you do it with discipline through Winning Moves and regular Think Meetings.

    Lesson 7: Get Back Up When You Fall

    Less than a decade ago, Uncle Frank was run over by a drunk driver in a retail parking lot. Yeah, run over. Not hit by the vehicle backing out, but hit, knocked down, and tire tracks from where the truck ran completely over his body. After hip replacement and some therapy, he got back up.

    Lesson 8: Your Legacy is YOUR Story

    Many people have accomplished tremendous things later on in life. Colonel Sanders was in his 60's when he built the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain. There is never a time to stop in your pursuit of a legacy. Uncle Frank bought his 2,600-acre ranch, El Rancho Verde, in 1970. A successful rancher, Frank won the Best Absentee Rancher Award. He also won the Real Estate Award for fifty years of continuous business. The ranch was his transition out of the restaurant business, and he had no intent to sell. Then along came PBA (Professional Bull Riding Association) founder and 9-time world champion rodeo cowboy Ty Murray and his entertainer wife, Jewell, with an offer. To hear Frank tell it, he said no, but then Ty made an offer he couldn't refuse. That’s when Frank began looking for a ranch to downsize. It was fun for me to see the ranch remodeled, to see Jewel’s private studio built on the property. It’s a good story – but it’s not the legacy Uncle Frank wrote for nearly 95 years. The things Uncle Frank did and said are his legacy. 

    When you leave your company, what will your legacy be? You’ll have one. It’s just a matter of whether you choose to write it. Leaving a legacy requires action and is an important part of your life’s work. A legacy is developed and is written over time. What’s left behind will be an enduring truth about your value-driven body of living. Don’t ever stop writing your legacy, the obituary won’t last once you're gone, yet your legacy will endure.

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    Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

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