The Life You Lead Is the Legacy You Leave
There’s no time like the start of a new year to consider the legacy you create with each moment of your life. While some people consider building a legacy an end-of-life matter, in reality, your legacy is a product of thousands of decisions that ultimately shape who you become and how others will remember you.
Building a legacy happens whether we intend it or not. No matter how we choose to live, we each leave an imprint, good or bad, on the people in our lives. The quality of your legacy comes down to how inspirational that imprint will be, and what lessons others will glean from their experience of knowing you.
One of the finest examples of legacy-building I’ve ever seen is displayed in Legacy Hall, the private museum of the late Ross Perot Sr. It contains portraits, personal memorabilia, historically significant artifacts, art collections, and correspondence accumulated during the EDS founder and two-time presidential candidate’s extraordinary life.
Brought up in Texarkana, Ross Perot Sr. was reared on his mother’s strong Christian values—a foundation in ethics that he continued to build on as an Eagle Scout whose sights were set on attending the U.S. Naval Academy. Never one to let rejection deter him, he tried in vain for three years until he finally secured a senator’s approval to attend. After graduating and marrying his wife, Margot, the ambitious young IBM salesman founded EDS and, later, Perot Systems. Alongside these achievements, he tirelessly advocated for the release of Vietnam POWs and supported veterans and numerous charities through two presidential runs until he died on July 9, 2019.
Perot’s legacy as a businessman and humanitarian continues to inspire those who knew him and many others. Observing his life through pictures, speeches and his collections, the broad strokes of legacy-building emerge in a life characterized by 1) adhering to a set of firmly held values, 2) constantly seeking ways to better himself, 3) declaring intentions, 4) doggedly pursuing goals, 5) developing character, 6) enduring pain, 7) overcoming failure, 8) taking on leadership roles, 9) advocating for causes, and 10) giving back through service and philanthropy.
Fortunately, building a lasting legacy is not the exclusive domain of the rich and famous. Neither does it require you to live like a saint. Leadership expert Dan Rockwell provides a surprisingly simple list of 10 ways that anyone can build a powerful legacy:
- Dare to be joyful. Serve in ways that bring you joy. Angry, unhappy people leave sad legacies.
- Monitor your impact on others. What are you doing when you make the biggest difference? Do more of that.
- Develop and maximize your talent, strengths, and skills. Know yourself. Bring yourself.
- Do what matters now. Everyone who’s at the end of life says it goes by fast.
- Seize small opportunities. Big may follow. Stop waiting to make a difference.
- Start with those closest to you and the ones you spend the most time with.
- Bring your best self to work and family. Everyone has at least two selves. Bring out the best one.
- Think service, not success.
- Relax. Don’t run around building a legacy. Run around making a difference.
- Elevate the needs of others over your own.
To this I add one more way to build a legacy: tell your story. Documenting your life’s experience lights a path for loved ones and others who may be inspired by your example.
When my friend Barry Annino was diagnosed with Stage IV liver cancer, he and his wife Debora worked with me to capture their story in a memoir, “Little Things Matter: A Story of Suffering, Survival and Legacy,” which now serves as the origin story for their foundation. In fulfillment of Barry’s last wish and her own calling to cross-cultural ministry, Debora now carries forward their intention to empower others through small-scale investments that increase opportunities and well-being in under-resourced Hispanic communities
Debora now speaks to groups on the topics of legacy and suffering. In her words,
Four words inspired Barry’s journey from hopelessness to purpose: “Your legacy begins today.” These words, spoken to Barry by our pastor while he lay in his hospital bed, changed the lens through which Barry viewed his disheartening prognosis. It was a comment Barry contemplated seriously. It became a catalyst for Barry to evaluate his life and what he was leaving behind. Would his life have made a positive difference? Was his life’s work meaningful? It gave Barry a purpose for the remainder of his days and a challenge to finish life on earth well.
I have also contemplated this question many times since that day. I have questioned if my life reflects the legacy I hope to leave. Will I leave this earth a better place? Will I leave relationships richer? Will there be compassion and goodness sprouted from the seeds that I have planted, or animosity and discord?
We are each given a finite number of days on this earth, and those days are for living our purpose. It has been said that the two most important days in a person’s life are the day they were born and the day they discover why. The day we were born matters. How we die matters. How we live in between those two moments matters even more.
A personal memoir is an invaluable heirloom to share with your loved ones, but even a thoughtfully penned letter can become a cherished treasure and moral compass for children and other descendants. For those whose family relationships are less than harmonious, sharing your story can go a long way to healing the hurts that come from difficult childhoods and hard lives. No person’s legacy is perfect, so perfection cannot be the goal. If anything, the story of how to endure life’s vicissitudes, grow from mistakes, repent for wrongs, reconcile relationships, forgive and find peace is a legacy worth leaving.
In summary, legacy-building is not about building a reputation. Rather, it’s about embracing the fullness of being and passing that wisdom on to others. Learning to ward off negativity in all its forms is an essential first step. Rockwell also provides a list of seven legacy blockers to be mindful of:
- Lack of focus.
- Living the life others want you to live.
- Bitterness, anger, and fear.
- Urgencies that smother priorities.
- Defeatism. “It won’t matter.”
Having an attitude of gratitude may be the most powerful antidote to these legacy blockers.
In the end, legacy-building is simply a choice to look at your life experience as a set of lessons worth handing down to others. Your wisdom can become an heirloom more precious than any material object. Sharing it in your own words is a gift of immeasurable value—so turn a page, and begin writing your story today.
What will the next chapter be?
Need help? The Heirloom Digital team is pleased to offer you a free consultation on our personalized storytelling service. Get in touch today and let’s visit.