What’s Your Legacy?

Typically, we only use the word legacy when we talk about the rich and famous. Obviously, Abraham Lincoln left a legacy. So did Cornelius Vanderbilt, Martin Luther King Jr. and Margaret Thatcher. But the rest of us? Absolutely.

Our legacy comprises the spiritual, intellectual, relational, vocational and social capital we pass on. It’s the sum total of the beliefs you embrace, the values you live by, the love you express and the service you render to others. It’s the you-shaped stamp you leave when you go.

Truth is, everyone is in the process of creating—and leaving—a legacy. The question is not, “Will you leave a legacy?” but “What kind of legacy will you leave?” The sooner you come to grips with this reality, the sooner you can start creating it. Like it or not, your life now shapes your legacy later. You have an impact on everyone around you. You will influence the course of other people’s lives for good or bad. In other words, your life matters. You are here for a reason.

Your job is to determine why. The good news is that you can shape the memories of the people who matter most to you. The thoughts, words and actions you choose will have an impact. Here we want to help you clarify the memories you want to create.

I know this might sound a little odd, but it’s helpful to visualize your own funeral. Ask, “How do I want to be remembered when I am gone?” What do you want the people closest to you to say?

Be open and vulnerable with yourself. You want to capture your true values. By numbering your days and facing your mortality—even while you’re still in your 20s—you can engage your mind and heart in a compelling, powerful way.

Identify your key relationships.

Think about who will attend your funeral. Assume everyone who is alive and in your life today will be there. This includes family, friends and coworkers. The important thing is that these are people who represent the groups you can still influence. As long as they are alive and you are alive, you can have a positive impact.

Describe how you want to be remembered by each group.

One way to do this is to write in a simple sentence format: “I want [name or category of relationship] to remember …” For example, Eric, an online marketer, said this is how he wants his social media followers to remember him: “I want them to remember my transparency, authenticity and generosity. … Most of all, I want them to see in me a role model with a life worth emulating.”

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Make these “legacy statements” as compelling as you can.

Remember, if your life plan will be compelling enough to shape your future, it must engage your mind and your heart. Both are essential. When you’re done, you should have a collection of statements you can now form into your eulogy. The key is write as if your funeral were today, not a future date.

When Eugene O’Kelly, former CEO of KPMG, was diagnosed with late-stage brain cancer, he was forced to think about his impending death and the impact he had on others. In true CEO fashion, he created goals for himself.

He made a list of important relationships he wanted to “unwind.” By this he meant he wanted to bring closure to those relationships and communicate how much each person meant to him. Unlike us, he didn’t have time to procrastinate. He couldn’t add it to his “someday/maybe” list because he was out of days.

None of us know how long we have left. Do we have another 50 years—or 50 minutes? We don’t know. But we can make a difference and begin to shape our legacy now.

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