What have you done today that will still matter in 50 years?
That is a question I once wrote in the center of a poster I made at a leadership course. The facilitator asked us to draw our life on the page. Our personal life. Our professional life. Our goals. Our priorities. Our responsibilities. The page was full. Life was sometimes too full. The question in the middle reminded me that I didn’t have to do it all.
I hung the poster on my office whiteboard with a new determination to go home at a decent time each day. The people at home were far more important than work deadlines. Yet my career fed my insatiable appetite for approval, so I often stayed at the trough late in the day. One day a colleague stopped in my office as she was leaving and pointed to the center of my poster. “Are you doing something that will still matter in 50 years? If not, go home.” It was an accountability check that didn’t feel good. But it made me get out of my chair and drive home.
Later I began to use a version of the question when I laid my head on my pillow each night. “What did I do today that will still matter in 50 years?” I hated to not have an answer each night, so it motivated me to do better. As much as these questions helped my natural life, they were a greater gift to my eternal life. Jesus said it this way in Matthew 6.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. [Matthew 6:19-20 ESV]
Jesus was referring to things that money can buy. I believe it is the same for how time is spent. Time gets eaten up by the unimportant when we don’t intentionally choose the important.
Now I’m at a stage in life when the 50 year question is taking on a different meaning. I expect to live a long time, but not more than 50 years. So the things that will matter then are the investments I make in the next generations. The foundations that others will build on. Paul talked about it when he wrote to the church in Corinth.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder, I laid a foundation and someone else is building upon it. [I Corinthians 6: 10 ESV]
Foundation building does not feed the approval appetite because foundations are unseen. Foundations go unrecognized. Foundation building can be emotional, financial, or spiritual. Every word, every dollar, every prayer. All of these help establish a foundation that others can build on a long time after we are gone. Firm foundations. They will still matter in 50 years.
Let the 50 year question help you live a better life. If you feel overwhelmed with the busyness of life, ask which things will still matter in 50 years. If you want to know your life has purpose, ask what you did today that will still matter in 50 years. And if you want to ensure something matters in 50 years, build a foundation.