2016 is the tenth anniversary of Bill Jensen’s seminal fourth 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. The first such update was posted here, and the second was posted here.

Marshall Goldsmith

Work: Helps leaders to lead others and to lead happier lives

Marshall Goldsmith has been hailed by business publications as one of today’s Top Ten Executive Educators and Top Five Executive Coaches. He’s written eighteen books on leadership.


Greetings from the past!

One of the greatest thinkers in my field (and in my time) was a man named Peter Drucker. I am very lucky. I got to spend a lot of time with Peter. He always encouraged people to ask, “Who is the customer?” before they do anything.

I finally understood the deeper importance of that question when a woman from the New Yorker wrote a profile about me.

She spent two months traveling with me, and interviewing my family, my clients, and many of the people who work with me. She then wrote this very long story and published it for 800,000 people to read. This was a little scary, since some of the New Yorker profiles can be pretty negative, and I didn’t get to read it ahead of time.

I originally thought that my customers in doing this profile should be my clients — the people who pay me to do my work. I thought that maybe I should “be careful of what I say” and try to act appropriate. Maybe I should be careful not to embarrass anyone.

But, as this woman began to follow me around, I figured out who I wanted to be my “customers” for this profile. It was you, my yet-to-be-born grandchildren. I decided that this profile was a special opportunity for you to get to know me. I decided to just act like myself. If I had acted like someone who was too careful of what he said, it would have been a story about an imaginary person. And not me. You might not have the chance to know your grandfather.

Your grandmother and I discussed this, since she’s in charge of our money. I told her to assume that we were going to lose $150,000 in business because of this profile. I figured that by just acting like me, I might annoy someone who wouldn’t want to work with me anymore. I figured that it would be worth the $150,000 to have a brilliant writer spend two months on a story about me (that I could send to you, and hopefully, to your children). I hoped that I wouldn’t lose any more money than this!

As it turns out, I was glad that I just acted like me. I received about 300 emails about the profile. They almost all said the same thing — “It sounds just like you!”

My fears about losing business due to this profile were wrong. Not only did I not lose any business, I was later interviewed for the Harvard Business Review and many other publications. I now have an eight-month waiting list for new clients.

I learned something from this experience that I would like to share with you: Just be you. Always.

You are good enough. In the long run, any success you achieve, if you don’t act like yourself, won’t seem real anyway. You will just feel like an imposter or a phony.

In my career, I am sort of a pioneer. I was one of the original developers of something called 360-degree feedback. I help successful leaders achieve a positive, long-term change in their behavior. I also try to help the people that I work with (and everyone around them) have a happier life.

If I look back upon what I have contributed in my career, my largest contributions have all come from stuff that I invented myself. No one can tell you how to do something that hasn’t been done before. If you are going to do anything creative, you have to make it up yourself! There is no guidebook.

In the long run, any success you achieve, if you don’t act like yourself, won’t seem real anyway. Click To Tweet

If you have an idea that sounds good — go for it! Just be you. Do what is in your heart. You may fail, but at least you will have tried.

Don’t waste your life worrying too much about being normal. Lots of people are normal. It is more fun to be different. Just be you.

When your grandchildren read the story of your life, make sure that it is really about you.

2006: Marshall Goldsmith is a Buddhist whose mission is to help people have happier lives. His personal philosophy is “Be happy now! Life is good.”

2016: Marshall is ranked as the number one executive coach in the world; ranked the number five business thinker in the world; best-selling author of 35 books; and as I can see in his most recent Christmas card, a very proud grandpa!

About Bill Jensen

Bill Jensen makes it easier to do great work.

He helps companies and teams double their productivity and pursue their passions.

He has spent the past 25 years studying how work gets done. (Much of what he’s found horrifies him.)

Bill is an internationally-acclaimed thought leader who is known for extremely useful content, with a passion for making it easier for everyone to work smarter, not harder.

His first book, Simplicity, was the Number 5 Leadership/ Management book on Amazon in 2000.

His last books — Disrupt! Think Epic, Be Epic and The Courage Within Us — reveal the secrets of success through bold ideas and by unleashing your own greatness. His new book, Future Strong, was published October 2015.

Bill holds degrees in Communication Design and Organizational Development.

He is CEO of The Jensen Group. Among his clients are Bank of America, Merck, Pfizer, GE, L’Oréal Italia, Genentech, NASA, The World Bank, BBC, Philips Lighting, the US Navy SEALS, the government of Ontario, Singapore Institute of Management, Guangzhou China Development District, and the Swedish Post Office.

Bill’s personal life fantasy is to bicycle around the globe via breweries.

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