Impact is doing what’s right, leaving a legacy

Saturday September 23 2023

The late Kenyan environmental activist Prof Wangarĩ Muta Maathai. PHOTO | POOL


Every human being can contribute to humanity even if it was as small as raising a child properly. Everything you do is a building block to your legacy

The late Myles Munroe often reminded us that man was born for a purpose and that anything outside that purpose was an abuse. However, this thing called purpose seems to be a huge monster that has eluded many. As a result, they just go through life like a ship sailing without a compass.

While interacting with leaders, I learn so much - much more than they learn actually. This is because I am able to process and compare data from multiple sources. So, I was with a client who says he wants to make an impact. Then, I asked him to define “impact”.

This is interesting because there is an article I wrote for a sister publication, The Daily Nation, nearly ten years ago that seems to resurface every year or two. It is where I argued that value is not measured by presence but by impact.

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Every time the article resurfaces, I see the same responses. Some get very inspired and agree with me while others vehemently disagree. What then constitutes impact?


Some people have said that life is not measured by impact and that my kind of thinking has destroyed many people. What they failed to address is the definition of impact. My mother impacted my life greatly yet she held no high office. We all have people who have impacted our lives without necessarily being super achievers. Truth is that whatever you are doing and wherever you find yourself, if your presence is not felt then question why you are there?

Not my circus

Someone once mentioned that even orchestras continue even in the absence of one member. Would that mean individuals can opt out and let what’s left of an orchestra to find its crest? What would be left of the orchestra? Malcom Gladwell in one of his books talked about a murder that happened in broad daylight in the full view of so many people yet no one called the police because they were all convinced that someone else would have made the call.

Similarly, someone else argued that when you get retrenched or die, no one remembers you in spite of the impact you made. That is a sad and unfortunate way of thinking. If we all thought like that then what use is our existence?

Don’t be fickle

Our impact must not be driven by the fact that people will remember us but by the fact that we know we have done the right thing, done our best and have made a difference.

Every human being was born to make a contribution to humanity even if it was as small as raising a child properly.

Years ago, while working in a research institute in West Africa, we were handed a project to do by the government of the day. My bosses passed it on to me and I as life would have it, our work was selected and won the government’s praise.

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What I did not know was that my name had been removed and my bosses took credit for it. Being my first job ever, I tearfully marched my frustration to my mother.

In her characteristic style, mother told me to wipe away my stupid tears, and said, “Does a chicken cry when you take away an egg it has laid?” I said no.

Then she said; “There are more eggs inside you, so you go and lay them.” And, I have been doing that ever since. My mother’s simple words made a lasting impact. Today, I am equally able to help someone else.

Make an impact or get out of the way. Whatever you are doing is a building block to your legacy. As Prof Wangarĩ Muta Maathai would say, planting trees was her little thing. Everyone has their little thing that translates into or from the impact they made. For some, their little thing will be amplified like Prof Maathai winning the Nobel Prize for the good of humanity.

Wale is the founder of the Street University. Email [email protected]