Will We Be Remembered?

Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development

Most people wonder at some point in time if their work is worth doing.  I think it is the human condition that we want our lives to have meaning.

Over the years, I have watched many of my colleagues retire or leave the City of Auburn Hills.  Many spent decades of their lives serving the community.  When they leave, there is often a party for these good people where their peers take a moment to celebrate them and say thank you.  Then, they are gone and with a slow fade they are forgotten.

Countless people have dedicated their lives to the City in the past and helped make it great, but citizens today will never know their contributions.  Observing this, I used to wonder if the sacrifices we were making as public servants was worth it.  Maybe, it should just be a job that pays the bills?  Perhaps, I shouldn’t get so emotionally invested in the work?

My perspective changed dramatically after the City of Auburn Hills sent me to LEAD leadership training at the University of Virginia in May 2007.  In a nutshell, the experience was a cumulation of a series of “ah-ha” moments where things became crystal clear for me on many levels.  Looking back, my time there literally changed the trajectory of my life.

As part of the training, we were strategically broken into groups of six and assigned to a mentor.  The allocation was based on our personality types, which was determined after taking the Myers-Briggs test.  We had a great mentor.  He bluntly explained that we would never excel as leaders of people until we get things straight with our own relationships, physical fitness, finances, and spirituality.  If we get a grip on that balance, our lives would have great meaning.  He looked us all in the eyes and challenged us to live a life of integrity.  Oh, the power of words.  The right words said at the right time can be like rocket fuel.

During the week, one of the group members raised an interesting question about the meaning of our careers: “Will We Be Remembered?”  Wow, she asked what we all have contemplated at one time or another.  Our mentor just smiled and then explained the story of the lamplighter to us.

In the past, a lamplighter was a town employee who lit the street lights at night with a wick on a long pole.  At dawn, he would return to turn the lights off using the same pole.  Few people saw the lamplighter because his work was done when no one was around.  However, everyone saw the light he brought each night.  I will never forget how our mentor ended the session that day. He said, “It is your calling to bring the light.”  

The people who serve the City of Auburn Hills as employees and on volunteer boards know in one way or another that they are “lamplighters.”  I believe this explains why our community has been so successful.