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Impact we make on others defines our success

| Sunday, April 15, 2012, 6:39 p.m.

Deaths, funerals and memorial services are topics we tend not to discuss unless it is absolutely unavoidable. But I'd like to address this topic, as I recently attended a memorial service for a local man who, during the course of his life's work, had profoundly impacted hundreds of people — including me.

At his service, the pews were filled with teary-eyed people who warmly recalled this wonderful man's wise words, his moral behavior, and his joyful attitude throughout his long — and often challenging — career.

The occasion caused me to ponder the delicate subject of my own demise and what clients and co-workers might mention at my passing. I think we can get a glimmer of what people might say later on, if we pay attention to what they tell us when we are alive.

I recently received an invitation to connect on LinkedIn from someone I had worked with about 25 years ago and had not seen since. He asked me if I remembered him (I did) and said he wanted to belatedly thank me for the career advice I had given him back then (I can't remember a word of it), which had enabled him to take his career to where it is today.

Other times, though, people have taken me to task for my forthright way of giving advice, and they have occasionally said a few things I'd rather not remember.

What feedback have you gotten from those you've worked with throughout your career• Are you hearing what you'd like people to say about you when you're gone• What is the legacy you'd like to leave behind?

Deb Burk, vice president of human resources at Ansys Inc., recalls that when she was working in her first job — an administrative support position — her boss told her, "You can really do anything you want in your career — you have the potential to do it all!"

Those words took root in Burk's mind and propelled her from some difficult personal circumstances into an award-winning HR career that has taken her around the globe. If she were to attend her first boss's memorial service, she would no doubt offer words of great appreciation for his inspiring observation about her career potential.

Pauline George of PG Training & Consulting, who is passionate about helping people connect with their purpose, recently read a gratifying message someone had posted on her Facebook wall. The woman wrote that she wanted to thank Pauline for being a great influence throughout her life — ever since she was a troubled teenager. She said, "Your voice has followed me throughout my adult years. I am now living and working in Beijing, China, as an English teacher."

Whether you are 30 or 60 years old, there will come a day when you look back to reflect on your career. You will realize that the money you made, the deals you closed, and the awards you won may have brought you satisfaction — but in the end, what will really, truly matter is your relationships.

Maybe you helped a nervous intern learn the ropes, or guided your staff through some tricky situations, or gave someone a reference that got him the job. Whether it was a one-time connection or many years of working side by side, we all have the potential to profoundly impact others. This is what marks the difference between true success and failure.

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