By Tim Maurer
Estate planning is one of the most technical—and terrifying—topics in the broad practice of wealth management. It exists at the intersection of quantitative logic and qualitative feelings, and it evokes the types of emotions that we instinctively avoid. Anxiety, fear, loss, sadness, hopelessness.
“I don’t have the words. Praying. Anything at all, we’re here for you.”
What else do you text the father, a good friend, who I’d just learned had lost his 17-year-old son the previous night?
I’d spent the previous hour hearing the news, breaking down, sharing the news with my wife and then my sons, breaking down, calling other parents who’d want to get to their kids before they learned in the middle of class, breaking down.
No, a text won’t do. Not in this case, not in this moment. They only live a few blocks away. So began the most painful walk my wife and I have undertaken, to a front door that we didn’t want to open, to see the face of a father and mother still stunned by the worst news a parent can receive.
Thus, we were initiated into a holy cycle of hugging, crying, story-telling, laughing and loving that culminated with a service—the day before Mother’s Day—celebrating Logan Janik’s life, as over 800 family and friends graduated into a new, dimmer reality.
Throughout this cycle, as I grew to know Logan much better through the intersecting narratives, the pervasive thought that stuck was that this young man had left more of a legacy in 17 short years than most leave after a statistical lifetime.
And no, these are not the mere musings of a mourner struggling with recent loss. Logan lived his life embodying a few commonly known but uncommonly exhibited traits that, if emulated, would help all of us live a life worthy of a legacy:
First, he made a habit of sharing his self-confidence with those who might lack it. Logan was a six-foot-two, 210-pound athlete with an enviable head of hair and an inimitable smile—the first word that came to mind both as his most memorable feature and the expression he most often inspired.
When my son first stepped foot on the campus of what has now become his high school—attended by over 4,000 students—he was an unsure eighth grader attempting to make the JV lacrosse team. I have no doubt that his attempt was successful in part thanks to Logan, then a seasoned sophomore, who insisted on driving my son to and from practice.
This rhythm continued as my son began his freshman year—Logan’s junior year—causing my wife and I to wonder, “What 11th-grader risks his popularity on an unrelated freshman?” But unlike most of us, even as adults, Logan didn’t see his personal confidence and credibility as an exhaustible resource. He spent it freely, not choosing to invest it only in those who’d provide a relational ROI, but more so in those who really needed it.
Second, Logan spoke words of affirmation. Such words can feel empty when actions don’t coincide, but there was no such incongruence here. For instance, my son wasn’t the only freshman beneficiary of Logan’s encouragement—another young man remembered Logan’s final words to him when, picking him out of a crowd, he simply said, “You’re my favorite goalie.”
In an age where so many affirmations come in the form of “Likes” worth little more than the click they require, a single, timely, genuine word of encouragement can buoy us when we fail and shape us when we succeed.
Finally, Logan extracted a redeeming reality out of circumstances that would waylay most. More succinctly, he was a glass-half-full kid who chose to find the best in both people and situations.
Of his passions in life, lacrosse may have been the foremost. But despite being an imposing athlete and an ideal teammate, he didn’t always make the team he tried out for, especially at his 4,000-student high school. “He handled it better than I did,” his father told me, when he missed the final cut for varsity.
We would all be disappointed, as Logan was, but our natural tendency is often to cast external blame and protect our vulnerability through embitterment. Logan did neither, and in retrospect, it also gave him the opportunity to play his final season of lacrosse alongside his younger brother, celebrating another high school league championship together just days before Logan’s passing.
Helping came naturally to Logan—but it doesn’t to most of us. We live in a time and place where crafting our individual narrative and boosting our resume is sadly very much a part of adulthood. The perception machine is always cranking, and the very design of “friending” and “connecting” is to pad our own stats and build our own credibility.
Spending time, effort, and social or professional capital, therefore, is seen as the domain solely of the untouchable philanthropist who has acquired more than it appears possible to spend in multiple lifetimes.
“I’ll give back when [fill in the blank],” seems a sensible refrain. But Logan’s example reminds us that our “when” may never come, and that we do not have to wait on an estate to build a legacy. Material riches are not required to make an investment in time or influence.
But if altruism isn’t enough motivation, there’s also a pragmatic case to be made. Helping others—without any expectation of reciprocity—is an entirely valid strategy for those (read: most) of us who are still in the accumulation phase of building a meaningful life, personally and professionally. Indeed, it is the premise of Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, and the inspiration for his weekly productivity routine:
I try to start every week with three things that I want to accomplish that I care about. And then three ways that I want to help other people. And that’s the compass for the week. I’ll plan my whole schedule around those things.
As I’ve been stumbling my way through Logan’s loss, I found myself asking a question about the equity of my accomplishment/helping ratio:
How much more of an impact could I have if I followed through on my best intentions, specifically relating to helping, affirming and building-up others versus striving toward my own accomplishments?
Would you consider asking the same question?
Consider allowing yourself, as I have been, to be humbled and inspired and challenged by a kid, an “old soul,” whose legacy will extend long beyond his life.
This commentary originally appeared October 19 on Forbes.com
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