Rethinking Career Legacy, Success, and Faith at Work

While our workplace contributions may be forgotten in the long term, a mindset shift centered on faith, spirituality, and the greater good can renew our professional fulfillment, writes Kevin Anselmo.

Listen to this Article

There is plenty of advice out there – much of it lofty and grandiose – about making a lasting impact at work. For example, facilitators of leadership workshops often ask participants how they want to be remembered after leaving a company or retiring from their career. The intent behind such questions is to prompt self-reflection and introspection on an idealized future centered around personal accomplishments, accolades, and glories.

However, these feel-good exercises gloss over a sobering reality: over time, most individual contributions and achievements will inevitably be forgotten. Whether you are an executive, entrepreneur, independent contributor, or any other professional, your contributions in the workplace will probably become a faint memory of others soon after you tender your resignation. Zooming out a few more years and decades, the specifics of both the person and the work done will likely be forgotten.

Just go back 100 years and consider: how many people in the workforce can you name from 1924? Think about a job you moved on from, say, 10 years ago, and then imagine walking through that same office today. It’s highly likely that the majority of the company’s current employees have no idea about former colleagues or the contributions they made. Furthermore, it’s important to recognize that some of the organizations where we work may one day cease to exist. So, the question becomes, should we even endeavor to leave a lasting mark on an organization? If so, how?

Aspiring to be at the top of an industry is an admirable goal. Yet, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the very nature of jobs may undergo significant change in the relatively near future, particularly with current advances in artificial intelligence.

Ultimately, everyone faces the end of their lives, bequeathing the financial assets and possessions accrued to heirs or friends – and over time these individuals will carry on life as normal. While these realities may initially seem disheartening, embracing and adapting to them can be incredibly freeing and invigorating in our professional lives. Rather than being a source of despair, accepting the transient nature of individual impact and the ever-evolving environment of work can actually open up new perspectives and opportunities for personal growth and fulfillment. Moreover, exploring spirituality can provide a powerful antidote and offer a sense of purpose, connection, and resilience.

Here are three mindset shifts to navigate this reality and find renewed purpose in work:

Connecting faith to work

We are often advised to avoid discussing religion and politics in our various interactions with strangers, and particularly with colleagues at work. While this makes sense in certain contexts, it can also seem at odds with the growing trend of encouraging employees to bring their authentic and full selves to work. Embracing unique traits, experiences, and perspectives contributes to a more inclusive and innovative work environment. According to PwC, 85% of companies with a formal diversity and inclusion strategy reported an improved bottom line.

Faith, as a core aspect of identity for many individuals, should not be excluded from this conversation – and that encompasses any worldview or religion. As it relates to religion, a study by researchers at Georgetown University and Brigham Young University found a positive relationship between religious freedom and 10 of the 12 pillars of global competitiveness, as measured by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index.Companies are taking action. According to the 2024 Corporate Religious Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Index (REDI), 85.8% of Fortune 500 companies now mention religion as part of their broader commitment to diversity, more than double the number in 2022 (202 companies, or 40.4%). The study also found a 68% increase in the number of Fortune 500 companies showcasing that they have faith-oriented employee business resource groups over the past two years. This year’s index lists American Airlines and Accenture as the most religiously inclusive global companies.

Redefining success through a spiritual lens

Regardless of whether an organization actively fosters religious diversity, individuals can benefit from exploring how their work aligns with their faith and traditions. One powerful approach to finding meaning in a career is to redefine success through the lens of personal spiritual beliefs. Success is a concept that society typically associates with money, influence, prestige, and power. While there is nothing wrong with such pursuits when achieved in an ethical manner, examining them in a spiritual context can provide a more profound sense of purpose, particularly in how we approach our ephemeral career impact.

In the book The Road to Character, David Brooks distinguishes between résumé virtues – skills that contribute to external success in the job market – and the deeper eulogy virtues, such as honesty, kindness, and the quality of relationships. Although most people would agree that eulogy virtues hold greater importance, many tend to prioritize résumé virtues. By leaning into one’s spiritual belief traditions, we may be able to better incorporate these eulogy virtues and their convictions into our career and everyday purpose at work.

Focusing on the greater good and releasing self-imposed pressure

Many of us seek the approval of others – we want to feel needed, to be in control of our lives, and to make a name for ourselves. However, these desires can be debilitating and hinder personal growth. Recognizing that some people may not approve of us – whether justified or not – and that eventually our services within a company will no longer be needed can help alleviate the pressure we place on ourselves. There is a sense of relief to realize that while our career successes may be forgotten, so will our career failures.

This doesn’t diminish the importance of our work, however. On the contrary, many faith traditions emphasize the value of doing one’s best work at all times, regardless of recognition or lasting impact. For many individuals, incorporating faith into their work can shift the emphasis toward the greater common good. This mindset also influences how we treat one another. When our primary focus is individual glory as part of our legacy, we are more likely to make ruthless decisions to advance our agenda. By adopting a realistic approach to our career legacies, we can prioritize treating our fellow human beings with respect and kindness rather than advancing our individual objectives.

So, fear not about the forgotten nature of our work. In fact, accepting it can actually bring greater peace and remove the pressure that comes with pursuing personal fame. By aligning our work with a higher purpose, we can find contentment and motivation, knowing that our professional efforts contribute to something beyond ourselves and align with a higher purpose. This perspective also encourages us to be more considerate team players.

Imagine 100 years from now. The year is 2124. It is not as distant as it seems. We will all be gone soon. Recognizing the fleeting nature of our existence underscores the urgent need to rethink our approach to work and to our professional lives in general. Embracing these mindset shifts and incorporating faith and spirituality – whatever that might be to you – into our work, can help us find renewed purpose, and a greater connection to the world and people around us.


© IE Insights.