After delivering the morning keynote at Invesco’s Investment Symposium today, my O’hare-bound Uber drove past the Intercontinental Hotel, which flashed a memory from my past. Twenty years ago, I attended a family foundation conference at that hotel. I laughed to myself, thinking the name tag I wore that week should have read “Help me. I’m in way over my head!”
My father had died just months prior to the conference, and his passing had thrown me into the role of director of our family foundation. At just 21 years old, I was wholly and completely unprepared. I took feverish notes all weekend and left feeling somewhat more ready to fill the very big shoes I seemed to be constantly tripping over.
As we travelled down the Magnificent Mile, my mind wandered to another vivid memory of stepping into Macy’s after the conference events that week. I saw a coat that reminded me of one my father had worn throughout my childhood. His coat was some kind of 70’s style tan, suede or sheepskin-like fabric that prompted a great deal of eye-rolling and overt mockery from me when I was a teenager. But, man, he loved that awful coat. I picked up the similar, but of course much trendier, coat in Macy’s, and in a moment, I fell in love with it. Somehow, it brought a piece of him back to me – a piece I really needed.
My fingers turned the price tag to reveal a shocker – it was priced just over $1000. I looked up to the top of the rack to find a 50% off sale sign, but even with the discount I struggled with the purchase. My parents raised us to live modestly, and I had never bought something that expensive for myself despite the fact that, upon my father’s death, I had inherited enough wealth to afford it.
Somehow, this felt like more than just a coat, so I made my way to the check-out. It felt powerfully symbolic to slide my arms into the sleeves and wear it’s weight on my shoulders, as that very week I was learning to more effectively wear my role as an inheritor of both opportunities and responsibilities that still felt a bit oversized.
I couldn’t wear my dad’s coat – it was too big and frankly it wasn’t my style. But my new coat – it echoed of his wisdom, his experience, his quirks, but was somehow also uniquely me.
So I bought the coat, and my husband took up the role of lovingly eye-rolling it’s unique style, calling it my “Kenny-coat” in homage to my dad. When I moved to Florida, I let go of my Kenny-coat, passing it along with other wintery clothing donations. I don’t need the coat anymore to feel embraced by the echoes of his wisdom and experience living on through me. The girl who wore that coat out of Macy’s that night, would have never guessed that decades later those very struggles would become the passion behind presentations like the one I gave today – encouraging people to remember that our legacy is made, not only of the wealth we pass on but our perspectives, and wisdom, and even our beautiful little quirks, like that crazy coat.