2016 is the tenth anniversary of Bill Jensen’s seminal book, What Is Your Life’s Work?, composed of legacy letters — letters from leaders and managers to their loved ones. Each letter describes a life’s work legacy they wish to leave behind. Each letter is published and attributed as it was ten years ago, with 2016 updates as postscript.
Fishmonger, transitions coach, trusted friend: John Harvey’s journey
John Harvey’s most recent position in corporate America was Senior Vice President of Global Talent at American Express. He left under difficult circumstances. He now pays the bills by selling fish. He’s writing to his four kids.
DEAR JOHN, CORINNE, JANEAN, AND JULIA,
I have a new urgency in devoting my time to the most important things in life. This is why I made one of the most difficult decisions of my professional life — to leave American Express. Once I realized that I worked with some people who did not value what I had to offer, and whom I could not trust, I knew I couldn’t waste another day there.
The one most significant lesson I could pass on to you is about trust. Specifically, “Be someone who can be trusted and know who you can trust.”
I have learned that it starts with me, not with other people.
Being trusted means that I am willing and able to take responsibility for my actions and behavior — all the time. Being trusted means that I have earned honor and dignity because people have confidence that I will do the right thing. Trust means that my commitment to strong relationships with other people is grounded in honest, direct communication — telling the deepest truths. Trust means that I am true to my word and my values. Being trusted means that I honor my commitments, I am personally accountable, and I am willing to forgive.
I learned all these lessons because, during my last few years at American Express, I had the misfortune of working for someone who could not be trusted. It made my work very difficult, ineffective, and sad.
However, when you find people who you can trust — and they trust you — it is a wonderful feeling. Next to love, it’s the best feeling in the world. Trust becomes the foundation for the relationships that will become the most important in your life.
2006: After much soul-searching about what to do with the rest of his life, John Harvey became the proud owner of Freeman’s Fish Market, in his hometown of Maplewood, New Jersey.
2016: John’s fishmongering ended a while ago, and he is now an executive coach with T2 Partners.
Want to Write Your Own Legacy Letter? Go here for step-by-step instructions.