You’re dead. And your Legacy is…?

Picture this: You’ve got friends over for dinner, and you’re just about to tuck into a delicious desert. The conversation has been energetic and positive. And then you ask “If you were taken away (‘died’, ‘bit the bullet’, ‘croaked’) tomorrow, what do you think your legacy would be?”

I’ll bet many of your friends will stare into the crème brulée. You might hear ‘my kids are my legacy’, but mostly you’ll hear ‘haven’t had time’, ‘the job and family are first’, ‘I’ll get to it later’.

Most of us, it seems, are happy to wait and hear what our eulogist thinks our legacies are. A little late, doncha think?

I think it’s time to lighten up the legacy conversation. In a moment I’ll describe how to create three new legacies that you can enjoy now!

When we see stories of legacy, it’s often about a famous athlete posting some great numbers, or a business giant putting their name on a new hospital wing. “I could never do that” we think. Our legacy will probably be the money and other stuff going to the kids (if you have them).

I began to think about legacy after I assisted my father in writing a book about his heroic WWII experiences. I was also just recognized nationally for my non-profit work. A friend heard those stories and said those were great legacies.  But I didn’t think I’d be able to leave a legacy as my wife and I had just lost a baby, and there were no more to come.  Stuck in my old belief that you needed kids to leave a legacy, I thought I was done, finished, kaput.

A few years later I had a moment with the Dalai Lama and asked him the age-old question: ‘Why are we here?’

‘To be happy’ he said. ‘To be happy.’

I’m a Boomer and, yes, have wondered about my life and what I’ll leave behind of value to others. I think thoughts like these are natural in a mind of 40 years+. Here’s what I’ve learned: Happiness, Connection, Purpose and Story are the good things that will emerge from thinking about, and creating my new legacies.

I mean, if legacy-building will assist in a happier, more connected life, I’m all in!

But I wanted a description, and concluded it needed to incorporate the ideas of giving, timelessness and story. Here’s my definition:

“A Legacy is something I create that connects and enhances lives now, and will continue to positively affect others when I’m gone.”

Philosopher William James said: “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”

So, let’s do a little ‘spending’ to create three new legacies that just may outlast you. I call these three legacies: 1) Tell; 2) Gather; 3) Create.

Today I’ll do ‘TELL’. It’s simple, and you can have it done in an hour.  In the following weeks we’ll look at GATHER and CREATE.

1. TELL Your Story

My great grandparents at Victoria Road, Ontario, around 1920

My great grandparents at Victoria Road, Ontario, around 1920. I found that pump 70 years later.

If you had letters from successive generations of grandparents going back hundreds of years telling who they were and the lives they led, would you enjoy them? I’m guessing yes. I would love if I had letters from my great grandparents who brought their nine children from Ireland to mosquito-ridden, boggy northern Ontario around 1880. I’ve stood on the outline of their cabin. I’ve held on to the pump that gave them water. I have no idea how they carved a living out of that wholly unfriendly landscape.

But we have the technology and wisdom to Tell our story to our future generations and know they will love it. Here’s how to Tell your story in a ‘Legacy letter’.

Pick three, five or ten values that are important to you (my five are Integrity, Connection, Wisdom, Creativity, Joy). For each of yours, write:
• Why this Value is important to me.
• How I’ve incorporated this value into my life.

For ‘Integrity’, I tell a mountain climbing story.
For ‘Connection’, I tell of walking into situations around the world where some may not go.
For ‘Wisdom’, I talk about the power of listening.
For ‘Creativity’, I tell a story about standing in the middle of Australia’s desert.
For ‘Joy’, I tell the story about breaking into tears after completing the wish of a sick child.

When you’ve told the story of your favourite 3, 5 or 10 values, then maybe add to your Legacy Letter by writing or speaking a few words about your beliefs, your talents, your triumphs, your failures… and many more categories detailed in my book.

But, for now, just start with a few values. Write them on paper, and put it away. A few weeks later add to it. As time goes on you will build your own Legacy Letter. Let your family know it’s there. One hundred years from now your ancestors will get that paper, or video on SD card, or something… and say: “Ah… that’s who he/she was! And that’s who we come from!”

I promise this: whether half a page, a beautifully bound book, a YouTube video or a feature film… you’ll love having just a part of your story ready for the next generations. It’s your Legacy gift to them.

And if you have kids, it will be the most important item you ever leave them. ‘This is my Dad.’ ‘This is my Mom.’

What’s your legacy?  Tell us about it next time you’re over for dinner.

That’s TELL your legacy.  Next time – GATHER your legacy.