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A Culture of Once

We know that everyone gets their 15 minutes (thereabouts) nowadays. One hit wonders may be flashes in the pan, but most of us still can’t get "Macarena" or "Tubthumping" out of our heads. Why is that?

It's because in a world where media is becoming more democratized and in a culture where the definition of 'news' is negotiable, something only has to happen once to get our attention and make us prepare for the unlikely occurrence of twice.

Snow's "Informer" hits the charts and we're thinking he's the next (or first) big white rapper. Vince Young has a phenomenal first year, but then throws more interceptions then touchdowns. We saw something on Dateline about someone getting killed, and now we'll take the precautions to make sure we're not next – even if it's expensive or irrational to do so. We buy lottery tickets because let's face it: someone has to win and you can't win without a ticket.

A culture of once is built on reputation and as opposed to legacy. And those who can see the market developed by this culture are laughing all the way to the bank (more than once, most likely).

Because even though I only slice a turkey once a year, I need to shell out the big bucks for the super duper knife. Because even though my gutters only need to be cleaned once a year, I'll opt for the nice foldable, telescoping ladder. Because a racehorse beat the odds at one race, I'll bet the house on him again. Because one song was a hit for a summer, I'll get the band's merchandise to wear.

Since when did exceptions become rules?

The stuff of reputation happens in an instant, with a mention on a blog or an appearance on Oprah. Anyone can create a reputation and milk it for all it's worth.

Because eventually, a reputation is worthless.

On the other hand, the stuff of legacy is priceless.

A legacy happens through repeated and consistent action. A good preacher isn't one with one great sermon, but countless good ones. The best musicians are those who crank out hits and meaningful compositions, regardless of what's trendy at the moment. Good Web sites are those that maintain traffic long after the novelty wears off.

Today, a lot of people spend money and time on trying to develop a reputation. Sadly, not enough of us concentrate on building a legacy – once that will last long after our time on earth has passed.

A culture of once that builds reputation is one that thrives on fear. In contrast, a legacy is built on hope, optimism, expectation and meaning.

I heard an anecdote once about a missionary couple in Peru. Known for their generosity, one day, while on the way home from shopping for groceries, a stranger asked them for a ride. The couple gladly obliged. A few miles down the road, their car and groceries were stolen at knifepoint by the new passenger.

Eventually, they made it back home and filed the necessary police report. Later, when recounting their story, someone asked, "So I guess you won’t be so kind as to pick up a stranger again, will you?"

"Nonsense," they effortlessly replied. "We're not going to let the unfortunate actions of one prevent us from the opportunity to help so many others."

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