You Have to Live a Legacy to Leave a Legacy

My friend Joe Sweeney is one of the most successful businessmen I know.

For over 30 years, Joe has owned, operated, and sold four different manufacturing companies. He founded SMG, a sports marketing and management firm that represents coaches and athletes such as Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre. In addition, he is a New York Times bestselling author and has served on 28 different boards of directors throughout his career. Oh, and he's an excellent motivational speaker to boot.

Joe recently told me about the turning point in his life, and it blew me away. He was inspired by a Jesuit experience that required novices to "undertake a journey of uncertainty" in an unfamiliar place. According to Joe, they are given $30 to last 30 days in a city they were unfamiliar with prior.

He felt that he needed to gain new perspectives on race, poverty, and violence; which motivated him to board a Greyhound bus in Milwaukee; his hometown, and head to Detroit to be homeless with $30 in his pocket for a week.

There, he met Alex Cogswell; who was like the mayor of the Detroit homeless community. Upon first meeting, he asked Joe for money, to which Joe asked him what he wanted it for. "A nice juicy burger from Burger King," was Alex's response. They went to eat at Burger King together, and for the rest of the week Joe Sweeney became "Joe from Milwaukee" in Alex's eyes.

Alex had a great personality, was polite, and allowed Joe to feel safe. He couldn't get over how kind he was despite his difficult living conditions. His actions alone caused Joe to rethink his feelings about the homeless.

Joe mentioned how Alex warned him to avoid sleeping in the homeless shelters because there were "lots of bedbugs, violence, drugs, and alcohol". He instead brought him to where he lived, under a bridge near Joe Louis Arena. The last time Joe was at that arena, he was sitting in a luxury box. Talk about a turn of events.

On his second day in Detroit, Joe said Alex brought him to the General Motors headquarters to show off its impressive architecture. He wasn't aware, but Joe actually is a part owner of Novum; the company who designed the GM HQ. Alex told him that was where all of the "one-percenters" worked; "the people who could afford an education, food, clothing, and houses."

Towards the end of Joe's quest, he said that he and Alex stopped in at a Potbelly restaurant. Joe ordered a bagel for ninety-nine cents, and the guy handed him an extra one for Alex. They got a couple of glasses of water, sat down at a table to eat our bagels, and after they finished, Joe headed towards the exit. He stopped, however, when he realized Alex was still at the table. He had gone back to the counter to grab some napkins and, using the water from his glass, spent the next few minutes scrubbing the table clean. Joe asked him why he did that, and his answer left him stunned: “I always try to leave a place better than when I found it.”

Many individuals leave their mark in life and make history by consistently doing all the right things and doing them exceptionally well. But their actual legacies begin to be carved much earlier on in their lives; whether they realize it or not.

If you want to leave a legacy, you have to live a legacy.

Alex didn't notice it, but he left behind a legacy. Joe will never forget him, I will never forget him, and now hopefully you won't either. Alex is a bright light in the dark alleys of Detroit because he gave his best and tried to help people despite his own struggles. He offers us the best definition of the term legacy—to leave everything we encounter better for the next person.

Is your family better because of you? Is the team you lead at work better because of you? Is the young woman who served you at McDonald’s better because you smiled at her or thanked her? Is the guy who picks up your trash having a better day today because you decided to get up early, wait by the curb, and thank him for the job he does?

Every day you have an opportunity to create a legacy so that in the end, anyone who ever had contact with you can say: “Life was better because of them.”

Note - Excerpts from this story were taken directly from Joe Sweeney's "Live A Legacy" story. To order Joe's latest book "After Further Review", click here.

Song of the Day: "Whatever It Takes" by Imagine Dragons

Movie Quote of the Day: “Great men are not born great, they grow great.” (The Godfather)


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