The first day of Express Leadership Academy started out with an incredibly thought provoking question – What is the legacy I want to leave behind? Let that sink in for a moment… What is the legacy that I want to leave behind?
When I answer that question, what does that say about me and who I am as a person? With that question in the back of my head how would I change my behavior? If I focus on the legacy that I want to leave am I️ willing to put aside the distractions that get in the way to live a life that leads to that legacy?
If I’d been asked that question six months ago I would have answered it very differently than I did today. I would have focused on something that serves the greater good, but in a way in which people remember that it was MY legacy. My focus would be less on the legacy itself and more on how people would remember ME. I know, it probably sounds very egotistical – because it is – but it is very honest. Six months ago my legacy would have been all about me.
Don’t get me wrong, it would be about something having a positive impact on others… ME being a great dad… ME having a positive impact on others… ME helping people dream bigger… All of it with the intent that I am remembered for being that person who left the legacy. Actions to better others, but in order to make ME look better, to make sure that I am remembered and recognized. It’s humbling to admit this to anyone who reads this, but part of the reason I write this blog is to share the honest thoughts and emotions in my head and in my heart in a search to be closer to being who I should be.
Since Dad’s death I’ve taken much time to reflect on many things, death, legacy, and impact being some of them. It probably sounds morose, but I’ve found comfort in spending a few minutes in a cemetery once a week. Don’t worry, it’s not a cry for help or anything like that. The time I spend there reminds me of the temporary nature of life. I am only here for a very short period of time, I need to remember that fact, appreciate it, and live a life that I will be more than satisfied with when it’s my time to go.
In spending time in the cemetery I’m drawn to the grave markers and headstones. Some are grand and others are small and crumbling. Some have many footprints from recent visitors, but the majority appear to not have been visited for ages. When I think about the reason behind the marker it is often to remind people that we were here. “I existed,” is what they seem to scream desperately to anyone who happens to pass nearby. It is a way for us to leave a mark, to be remembered for being here. Sadly, at some point people will stop coming to the marker and the individual will be swallowed up and vanished in the great river of time.
The way my head was wired before was trying to be remembered for actions, deeds, and values. To have my name remembered and passed on. Going back to ancient times people have long fought to be remembered, to have their names passed on through ages, to never be forgotten. It’s almost as if we are able to find a way to cheat death by being remembered through time. If enough people remember me for long enough I’ll never actually die…. We will all be forgotten at some point. Our names may be passed on, but at some point the lines between fact and fiction will blur, and it’s only a shell of who we were that may be remembered. Hollow words forming the name of someone who’s been forgotten. Enough generations will go by and the memory of us is blown into the wind and disappears.
Thanks for cheering us up Kreiling, right??? I know, it sounds brutal, but it’s actually an incredible understanding that opens the door to joy. What is there really to live for if we are going to be forgotten in this life eventually? Simple, our legacy.
The definition of legacy that was offered up today was “the difference we make in the lives of others.” Our legacy is the lasting impact we have on others, positive or negative, that passes on from them to others. It is the ripple we leave in mankind as we live our life.
Our legacy is the act of kindness that we do that makes someone smile. That person is moved by that act of kindness and passes it on to a couple of more people. Those pass it on to others, and it spreads like wildfire. When you ask someone who inspired them to do that act of kindness they’ll share the story of the person who did that for them. They won’t even know who started the domino effect in the first place, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that someone committed the first act of kindness and it continues to be passed on.
Who started the action is irrelevant. What is most important is that it has created a ripple effect that has bettered the lives of many others. No credit needs to be taken, nor should any be given or asked for. We live to better each other, each future generation, and all of mankind.
When thinking of legacy in that way I am finally starting to see that the ego piece of my initial view of leaving a legacy is so wrong or misguided. At some point I will be forgotten on this world. I won’t even be a memory. It’s tough in some ways to let that soak in, but anything else would be a lie to myself. That said, I do want to leave a legacy. I want to live a life that makes a difference in the lives of others.
So what is the legacy that I can leave that will make a positive difference in the lives of others – now and in the future? I can be joyful and share that joy with others. Short, sweet, and simple. If I can live a joyful life and share that joy with others the world will be a slightly better place. My name won’t be remembered, I’ll still slowly fade after death, but I’ll have the peace of knowing that I’ve left a positive impact.
Keeping that in mind it is a great guiding principle to remember as I live my life. Am I living in a way that is joyful or am I too busy being stressed out? Am I being introverted and hoarding my joy to myself or am I actively seeking opportunities to bring joy to others? At the end of each day I can take time to reflect on that guiding principle and evaluate how I’ve done. What went well? What could I have done better? I’ll never be perfect at it, but I can continue to strive for perfection.
While the conversation on legacy today really helped me put some of these thoughts into words it’s the really work of much thought and consideration over the past six months that have led to this post today. I am so thankful for spending time deep in thought on the concept of leaving a legacy, it has brought me both peace and joy.