Your Legacy: Order or Chaos?

We’ll be talking about the Penn State scandal and subsequent cover-ups for a long time. But as the dust clears on this phase after former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s findings and we give proper empathy to a way-too-long list of victims, I keep thinking about what might be called its second- and third-tier victims as well.

While I won’t lose a wink of sleep if the NCAA gives the Nittany Lions football program the death penalty, I will feel deep compassion for the incidental victims who will take that hit. Players and coaches who had no part in the scandal. Scorekeepers. Those who work concessions. Those who make, supply, and sell uniforms and shoulder pads and footballs. Parking attendants. Hotel owners. Hotel staff. Restaurant owners. Bartenders and waitresses who raked it in during football season. This list only scratches the surface.

It reminds me of the people who don't occupy the C-suites but suffered greatly when the Wall Street debacle went down a few years ago – maids, nannies, cooks, the guy selling hotdogs on the wrong corner.


How do we reconcile it all? How does this kind of horror not affect how we set goals? Because don’t the following typically carry a positive connotation?

Institution. Hierarchy. Money. Legacy. Ambition. Power. Winning.

It takes a certain amount of ego to excel, or shall we say succeed, in that lineup. Where does legacy fit in now? What was once perceived as admirable, the height of ambition in Joe Paterno, is now a disaster. Is that legacy? How does it speak to the random person who wants to preserve a record and a reputation so badly that he glazes over what he perceives as minor? Might he stop and ask himself some questions about priorities and honor and, if called for, humanity?


I keep thinking of the survivors, the Paterno family and close friends. Because denial is a natural part of the grieving process. So is the ‘why?’ question – asking it over and over again. And then there’s anger. In most cases, we rail at the person for dying on us and leaving us to deal with it. In this case, the amount of rage they will likely experience is beyond what most of us can comprehend.

They, and all the people who ever called Paterno a mentor or major influence in their lives, are left hanging. They will never know how he would have handled this. Would it have brought him to his knees? Hardened him? Lingering questions come with most deaths. They can persist and overwhelm. This death, whoa.

For the rest of us, there are some we can apply to our own lives. Who are we putting on a pedestal? Modeling ourselves after? What if I found out my own mentor was molesting children when he wasn’t teaching his journalism students how to be excellent and ethical in reporting and editing? He was a great champion of me and my career. That wouldn’t go away. But how would a big revelation like that land on me? Would I feel duped? Protective? Would I seethe? Confront?

Certainly this gives us pause on our role models. How can we know, really? What might we believe that’s false? What are we holding on to? How might it impact things we’re doing and how we’re living? It all asks us to go within, be inspired or influenced by others, but use it to grow and not glorify.

I’m 50 years old and sometimes I wonder why I should give a hoot about anything but now. I’m so upended by thoughts around death lately. It’s been that kind of year. Ultimately, I find the messages in most things. I have no ties to Penn State. I’m completely ambivalent about it as a sports power. And yet this situation has me not just thinking about the aforementioned lingering questions, but evaluating how I live and how I might coach a client to live.

For example, this keeps popping into my head: If you died today, what are you leaving behind? Order? Chaos?

I’m not even necessarily talking about a will or having your financial affairs in order, although that’s certainly part of it. More like, what will the emotional and incidental ripple effects be when you pass from this life? What will be the lingering questions? Are you OK with whatever the answer is? If not, how do you change it?

Since the Penn State story broke in the fall, we’ve examined the lessons of being a bystander. Surely many of us will step up where we might not have before in situations much less severe than child molestation. Maybe that means fewer victims in the grand scheme of things.

Maybe that’s something.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to