You can do some great things in your life but, all too often, your legacy will be defined by the bad things that come to eclipse the good.
Bill Cosby, for instance, was one of the greatest entertainers of the times.
Beyond his stand-up comedy and trailblazing TV shows, he was an educator, mentor, inspiration and all-round role model.
He is now remembered mostly for the string of sexual assault cases that landed him behind bars in old age.
Our own Asbel Kiprop was one of the greatest middle-distance runners of his generation, but his reputation and records will remain forever sullied by the failed dope test that halted his track career.
We can think of so many other greats in the world of sports and entertainment whose stellar legacies were ruined for various transgressions.
Ben Johnson — drugs cheat. Michael Jackson — paedophile. Maurice Odumbe — sports betting. Mike Tyson — rapist.
The list is endless, extending to political leaders, captains of industry, academics, scientists and achievers in every other field.
It is in the myriad examples of mistakes overshadowing our great deeds and accomplishments that we must view the tragedy that became Robert Gabriel Mugabe.
The former Zimbabwean leader would have stood tall and proud amongst the pantheon of African nationalists, patriots and freedom fighters who delivered their people from colonial and white supremacist bondage, or home-grown despots, and also kept ablaze the torch of Pan-Africanism.
He would have been in good company with the likes of Jomo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela, Sekou Toure, Samora Machel, Thomas Sankara, Eduardo Mondlane and so many other heroes of liberation.
Yes, he freed Zimbabweans from white-minority rule, but his story cannot be told without prominence to the brutalities he came to inflict on his own people.
He was the liberator who became a tyrant, visiting more death and destruction on his own subjects than he ever inflicted on the white oppressors.
Into the bargain, Comrade Bob bankrupted a once-prosperous country, reducing everyone but his family and a few favoured political and military chiefs into total poverty.
This is a picture of Mugabe that will never be erased — not even by apologists for his misrule peddling the lie that it is a Western media narrative out to demonise an African nationalist who stood up to neo-imperialism.
It is the wearer who knows where the shoe pinches, and black Zimbabweans know the carnage Mugabe wrought on them — not fellows quaffing wine in Nairobi, Johannesburg or Lagos and hailing him as a hero.
The question, really, should be whether we have learnt any lessons from the Mugabe tragedy.
We all want to leave a positive legacy. We want to be remembered for our good deeds, for our accomplishments, for contributions to society, for being role models as parents, teachers or leaders in various other fields.
We can work hard towards all that, but everything can be undone by moments of madness.
We can pose as generous philanthropists but will never erase the negative legacies if the source of our money is corruption, narcotics or other nefarious business.
We can make great shows of commitment to national unity, but forever be remembered as instigators of sectional divisions and perpetrators of ethnic violence.
As they mourn or pretend to mourn Mugabe, key leaders promising to provide solutions for Kenya’s perennial problems should be looking closely at his legacy and where he went wrong.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto, Mr Raila Odinga, Mr Musalia Mudavadi, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka and all the other characters should pause in their scrambles to win our favour and look inwardly into their individual selves.
Are you driven by care and concern for the common good or by selfish quest for personal gain? Are you honest and sincere in your entreaties to Kenyans or just mouthing the same old political BS?
Have you done or said anything that divides us along sectional lines? Have you promoted ethnic conflict as a political weapon? Have you looted from the public purse to finance your political activities and gilded lifestyle?
The answers to these few questions might come to define what you will, in the fullness of time, come to be remembered for.
Winning political power and achieving wealth and greatness will count for nothing if, at the end of the day, your enduring legacy is that of a thief, scoundrel, dictator and destroyer of the national fabric. By then, it will be too late to change the narrative.
[email protected] @MachariaGaitho