“We were meant to give our lives away. Spend more time living your legacy instead of worrying about leaving it.” ~ Lee J. Colan
It was difficult losing my grandfather, the patriarch of my mother’s large family and my extended family. As my family prepared for his funeral, I started thinking about the word “legacy” and how our legacy lives on long after we are gone.
According to the dictionary, a legacy is “something handed down from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.” Many people think of a legacy as purely financial or material, items or money bequeathed from one generation to another. But I believe it is so much more.
When we think about what is actually handed down from person to person, generation to generation, it is about so much more than money. We are influenced by so many other people in our lives. Certainly we are influenced by our family and friends, and when those people leave our lives, they leave us a very personal legacy given our close relationship with them.
Celebrities and other famous people leave legacies. Think about wildly famous people who have passed away and consider what they have left behind. When the world sat riveted by the passing of Michael Jackson, many commentators considered what his legacy would be. What did we learn from Michael Jackson? What will Michael be remembered for? Certainly that varies from person to person, just as our memories of any individual will be our own and will differ from others around us.
I considered the life of my grandfather, whose influence was great. While I don’t want to dwell on his passing, he left a legacy for me, my family, and others that he touched. As I think about some of the lessons I learned from him, three come to mind immediately.
- Keep a sense of humor. My grandfather had a wicked, wry sense of humor that never failed to make me laugh. Even in the midst of incredibly difficult times, he would have a quip or a little comment that would at first make you wonder if he actually just said what he said, and then, when you realized he did say what you thought he said, you burst out laughing. Sometimes you can only laugh or cry at a situation. Why not find something to laugh about? Oftentimes we can’t change what is happening around us, but we can shift our outlook by finding a bit of humor or levity.
- Persist. Never give up. My grandfather grew an incredibly successful business out of nothing. He never gave up, even in the face of challenges and uphill struggles. He had such incredible drive and determination to create what he had envisioned and build a business that provided for his family. When it seems like we are going to fail, we need to evaluate the situation, change the course if necessary, but never give up in the face of adversity.
- Remember your family. In the end, the greatest legacy of mygrandfather is found in my family, my aunts and uncles, my many cousins, and the memories of holidays and times together. I remember riding with my grandfather out to the quarries to weigh semi-trucks full of rocks for the summer when I was 14-years-old. It was my first job. But I got to ride with my grandpa each day every day all summer, and I am grateful for that time together much more than I am grateful for any paycheck I received.
As we consider the legacy of those who have gone before us, I challenge you to live your own legacy. Don’t wait until the end of your life to discover what others learned from you or will attribute to you. Decide NOW what you want your legacy to be, and then live it. Every moment of every day decide what kind of person you want to be known as, what you want your children and grandchildren to remember about you, what you want others to say about you when you are gone. And live it now.
TODAY: Write out what you want to be known as at the end of your life. Write what you want those you love to say about you when your time on earth is complete. Reflect on this, and start creating that legacy today, this minute. If you find yourself out of congruence with this vision of your own legacy, gently correct yourself and remind yourself what you want your legacy to be. It will be a gift to those you love and to the world, and it will give you incredible peace of mind, congruence, and integrity as you become a real success – the living embodiment of your highest ideals and values.