What Legacy Will You Leave?

We recently laid to rest my uncle, Bud Cochran. He was the last remaining sibling of my grandmother’s generation. He and my grandmother, Virginia, both passed away in 2016 and were the last of Andrew Jackson Cochran’s thirteen children. My great-grandfather was born in 1873 and his last child died in 2016, a span of 143 years, leaving several hundred descendants. I began to think about the impact his family had over almost a century and a half. What impact will you have for future generations?

What will your legacy as a doctor be? How would it sound to hear at your eulogy that you had written 37 ground breaking papers, authored 4 books and written chapters in 9 others? That you spoke at 137 conferences and had been given 3 honorary degrees. That sounds like quite a legacy doesn’t it?

But what if we added to the legacy that you had been through 3 divorces, your children don’t speak to you, one of which is in prison, and your life ended this week by suicide after it was revealed on national television that you had demanded sexual favors from several employees in exchange for career advancement. Now the legacy doesn’t sound so great.

As physicians, we run a huge risk of becoming disconnected from our families. Our career demands an incredible amount of our time. We get up early to make rounds, work a long day, and spend the evening getting caught up with charting. After all that, we might also work on writing papers and books and chapters and preparing lectures. At the end of the day we are tired and cranky. So where do we fit in time with our family? How do we develop that legacy?

The answer is that we should not be trying to “fit” in time with our family. Our family should be taking the lead in the time allocation area. If you are planning to give your family the leftover time after you finish working, they will be sad to find there is no such thing as leftover time.

A quick look at your calendar will speak volumes about your priorities in life. Is something on the calendar this week with your spouse’s name on it? Can we find your children’s activities listed on your calendar? Is there any time scheduled for rest and relaxation? If work is all you can find on the calendar, maybe it’s time for a long hard look at the legacy you are creating.

Your family deserves to be a priority in your life and not be relegated to any leftover time that might never exist. You can be home for dinner most nights if it’s your priority. You can read your children a bedtime story most nights if it’s your priority. You can have a date night with your spouse every week if you make it a priority. On the other hand, if you make work your priority, those other things are not likely to happen with any frequency.

I recently heard a comment about a father who is now nearing his last days on earth. His daughter said, “I never saw my father growing up. He worked swing shift during the week and spent much of his weekends fishing or doing chores around the house.” She did not feel her father wanted to spend any time with her. He could have made an effort to get off swing shift. He could have made an effort to spend time with the kids, or even take them fishing with him. He could have included them in his chores around the house. If time with his kids was a priority, he could have found the time.

I heard a story of a famous radio personality who worked the morning drive time in his home town ($300,000/yr.), then flew to another city to do the evening drive time show there ($300,000/yr.) and on the weekends spent his time making commercials ($100,000/yr.). When asked why he worked so much, his comment was, “I’m doing it for my family.”

He was not doing that for his family. He could have just done the morning drive time and in the early afternoon recorded some commercials and that would have created a $400,000 annual income which would allow his family to live in great comfort and be able to see him every day and every weekend.

It’s time for you to think about your family legacy. Schedule some family vacations and be present with them when you go. Schedule time to do something special with each of your children every week. Make a date with your spouse every week. Do not sit back and let the default schedule take over, which will allow your career to suck up all your available time.

There are more patients wanting to see you than you could ever see. There are more committees seeking your help than you could ever serve. There are more organizations wanting your time than you could ever fulfill. Choose an amount to give to your career and draw a line in the sand. Don’t let your career creep over that line. There is more to life than medicine, let it be only a part of your life and not make up your life as a whole.

You can be a successful doctor and still have a successful family life. Yes you can have both, but only if you make your family a priority and put them in your schedule. Live a legacy. Leave a legacy. Be the doctor your family always wanted you to be. You will not be sorry. No one ever lays on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time at the office.

If you would like more information about enjoying a great practice of medicine, whether as a practice owner or an employee, then get a copy of “The Doctors Guide to Starting Your Practice Right” and transform your practice into the dream you had when you started this journey.

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5 thoughts on “What Legacy Will You Leave?”

  1. Sorry to hear this news, but glad to read the perspective you have on time, work/life balance, and legacy. This is a universal problem, and one I’m struggling this month as I try to obtain a bonus by billing several extra hours at my law firm before May 31. I justify it by remembering that myself and Mrs. Vigilante are planning to have a child shortly and I hope to reduce my workload dramatically when that child is about 3-4 years old…but I can only hope I remember to reduce it so I don’t have these regrets!

  2. I’m sorry to hear about Bud, but it sounds like he left quite a legacy.

    Your article is an excellent reminder to find balance in our lives. Too few of us ever find such a thing.



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