In reading Adam Grant’s latest book “Hidden Potential“, he brought up some interesting thoughts related to our role in life as a descendant versus an ancestor. He said:
It’s more important to be good ancestors than dutiful descendants. Too many people spend their lives being custodians of the past instead of stewards of the future. We worry about making our parents proud when we should be focused on making our children proud. The responsibility of each generation is not to please our predecessors—it’s to improve conditions for our successors.
Most of us certainly want to honor those that came before us, but not if it stands in the way of making things better for those than come after us.
Fortunately, they tie together in many ways. If you do something to better the future for your descendants, your parents will likely be proud of that.
What’s interesting to me is finding the situations where those don’t work together, and please comment if you have thoughts on that. The ones that come to mind for me are when you take over the family business but need to shut it down. This could be for somewhat moral reasons (related to tobacco or strip clubs or something), or simply because the times have changed like one of the thousands of newspapers that have closed in the past few decades. You’re theoretically working to make things better for your descendants at the expense of what your ancestors did for you.
It’d be ideal if you could honor both sides with all of your actions, but it’s not always that simple. When conflict between those two arises, working to be a good ancestor is likely better than being a noteworthy descendant.
What can you be doing to improve the conditions for your successors?