When a person dies the obituary will read something like this: Announcing the death of So and so 1935-2011. What gives value to this is not so much the numbers but the dash in between the numbers. The dash represents what they did on earth. The dash gives value to the numbers.

Every day that we live is another opportunity to add value to that dash. Every decision that we make adds or takes away value from the dash. While the numbers before and after the dash may be forgotten, the dash is always remembered. Think of great names like William Shakespeare. Very few people will be able tell the numbers before and after the dash where he is concerned but the dash is never forgotten. Think of a great composer like Handel or Mozart. While you may not know the numbers before or after the dash, the dash lives on forever. The dash is what will determine if you will live on after your body succumbs. The dash is what will determine the value of the life you lived. It is what will determine if you merely existed or if you truly lived.

 Life is in seasons. There is the season of adventure and discovery where we have no choices or preferences. We get excited at whatever comes our way that looks exciting. We discover our potentials and the possibilities that abound. At this stage we have no sense of purpose. We are driven by achievement at all costs. Next comes the season of focus. Here is where we decide what we don’t want. It’s as big a discovery as deciding what we want. Deciding what you don’t want puts you in command of your life. You are no more subject to ‘market’ forces as it were. You are guided by vision and principle and not by opportunity. This is what separates the wheat from the chaff. It is what separates the men from the boys. Most people are guided by opportunity but it takes a different level of perception to be guided by vision and principle. This is where you can say No to what looks like a good opportunity in the short term but will become a liability in the long term or that does not align with your values. (Remember that your values will determine your value). The season of focus is a very crucial season in determining the value of the dash. After the season of focus will come the season of legacy. This is also the baton transfer season where you are moving form success to significance, from good to great. This is where your bottom-line changes from prosperity to posterity.

A lot of teachers including myself have aggressively preached about these seasons and their chronological nature. We have taught that one season follows the other in chronological order. Today however I want us to think a little differently. With what you know today, if you were to start your life afresh, I’m sure you would start thinking legacy from the adventure stage. The Bible tells us of the story of a man called Methuselah. He has the record as being the oldest man that ever lived. HE lived for nine hundred and sixty nine years. That would have been absolutely remarkable but for the fact that the only thing recorded about this man is that he lived, had children (for which no special skill is required) and he died.  Now think of someone like Alexander the great. He lived for thirty two years and the history books are full of his achievements. Think of King David who lived for seventy years and Israel still celebrates his birthday till today. He is remembered as the greatest King of Israel. Coming closer home think of Martin Luther King Junior. He lived for thirty nine years but history will never forget that he lived and his ‘dash’ is full of value.

What is the unique attribute of people with valuable dashes? They have the special ability to start with the end in mind. You may be in the discovery era of your life today or the focus era. The truth is that you will one day be left with only a dash to remember you. This is what you need to think of today. You need to do everything with the dash in mind. Ask yourself –‘What is the dash value of this action?” ‘How does this action or decision affect generations yet unborn?’ Ordinary people live for the present. Their decisions are always addressing the present. Incidentally, this is the same thing that leads to the ultimate extinction of many good companies. Their focus is always on the present and never on the future. They build their business model around the customers of the past and never prepare for the customers of the future – who today are not customers and maybe not even born!

If we do not think with the future in mind then the value of our dash will be greatly diminished because it means we are living only for ourselves. A lot of people live for things that have no eternal value. Go to many churches today. The measure of the blessing is determined by the value of the car you drive or the watch you wear. Living for yourself and measuring your life by things that have no eternal value is the lowest form of living. In actual fact it is no different from an animal. What differentiates man from animals is the fact that we can think legacy. No one thinks of the car that Mother Theresa drove. No one thinks of the car that Martin Luther King drove. No one talks about his watch. No one talks about the value of Albert Einstein’s shoes. These things had no eternal value. They do not contribute to the dash! The irony however is that when your life focuses on the dash, good things will find their way into your hands without you having to compromise on your integrity.

What are you living for today? If you are not living for a cause outside of yourself you are living below the acceptable standard of humanity with value.  Martin Luther king lived for a dream that would come to pass forty years after he began to dream. He lived for a dream and died for it. What is your dream today? Is it all about you? Then you can be sure that the value of your dash will be no different from the value of Methuselahs dash no matter how long you live. The story goes that Ghandi was once about to board a train and one of his shoes got caught in a wedge on the train and dropped onto the track. The train was already about to move so there was no time to get under and pick it. Gandhi is said to have removed the other shoe and thrown it on the track. When asked why he did so, he replied by saying that the single shoe on the track had no value to whoever found it without the second one (which had no value to him too). This ability to quickly think about the dash value is what separates these great people from others. What is your dream today? What are you contributing to your dash today? I dream of an Africa where poverty is a foreigner and not a national. I dream of an Africa where unemployment is a choice and not a sentence. I dream of an Africa where the son or daughter of a nobody can become somebody without knowing anybody (my definition of democracy). I dream of an Africa where my housemaid can get the best education for her child not because she is my house maid but because she is African. I dream of an Africa where my driver can get the best healthcare not because he is my driver but because he is African. I dream of an Africa where excellence is the standard and not the exception. I dream of an Africa where the tag made in Kenya or made in Nigeria will be an automatic stamp of excellence around the world. I dream of an Africa where my passport will be celebrated in every country of the world. I dream of an Africa where our embassies around the world are congested with people trying to come to Africa to get a part of the Africa dream and not just to look at animals.

Remember, every step you take, every decision you make is either adding to or removing from the value of your dash.