I am an American Baby Boomer. Born to a mid-western, upper-middle class family of professionals in the post war years, I grew up in the affluent, seemingly never-ending, ‘American Dream’ lore of the time.
The Stones and piano lessons were a prominent part of my childhood as were Monopoly and glass marbles. My grandmother, Emily, an elementary school teacher, was my greatest maternal influence. I cannot cook; a fact I attribute to Granny, who chose instead to focused my young attention on reading and writing.
Granny enraptured my burgeoning imagination with stories about ‘teaching in the trenches.’ She taught for four decades. From the 'roarin’ 20's' through the squelched-years of the Depression, into the valiant-heart era of WWII, followed by the happy days of the 50's, Emily taught English to kids, American kids, just like me.
Five decades later I sit, metaphorically, I mean, where my grandmother sat before me – as a wise professional elder with many stories to tell about ‘working in the trenches.’ I, like so many Boomers, am entering my ‘wisdom years' and as such I have a career legacy to build.
Legacies, big or small, can be built in many ways. One easy way is to tell stories. Stories allow others to learn in nuance – to extract knowledge that relates to their personal journey in life. As an organizational communication consultant, I use storytelling as a coaching tool; mainly, for those who want to become people leaders – great ones, that is.
Here’s my question on telling stories to build a career legacy: What type of stories will Baby Boomers tell about ‘working in the trenches’ now that we are elders?
Here are the three top responses from my business and professional Baby Boomer colleagues on LinkedIn about the type of stories they tell in re: their careers. Their stories focus on:
1. Professional Integrity
2. Building Relationships
3. Helping Others
I’ve said many times: The 21st century is different in kind to the 20th century. Yet, those differences refer to consciousness and how we perceive reality; not to core constructs of aliveness that make us who we are.
Namely, we’ve traveled from mechanistic views of the world in the 20th century to those of complexity in the 21st. Yet, levels of aliveness remain the same; i.e., integrity (wholeness). Integrity is as much an essential quality to leadership in the 21st as it was in the 20th century, or before (read Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, for example).
So too, building relationships; the ‘woman who conquers all’ has given way to ‘discovering her purpose in life and passionately contributing its benefits to her community.’ A 'big fish – small pond’ perspective on life is no longer hidden under a monolithic cultural groping toward ‘more is always better.’ It’s cool to find your purpose, your people and your place.
However, the pinnacle of building legacy through storytelling is a story about helping others. Today, helping others is seen as both altruistic and self-preserving. After all, are we humans not born 'connected?'*
Stories about helping others (i.e., from surviving to thriving) reflect our ‘you-and-me-ness’ – a good thing in the human realm. To that end, let's tell our stories – stories about integrity, relationships and helping others – and leave our legacies to posterity. Posterity could use a little wisdom.
*Indeed, we are born connected through the capacity for language.
Organizational communication maven by day. Food, wine and beer buff by night. World traveler. Entrepreneurial spirit. Contact Eroca Gabriel, a former Fortune 100 ‘people and culture’ consultant, at firstname.lastname@example.org.