Sometimes people get right to the point. After about the third sip of a cappuccino with a friend in a local coffee shop, they asked me this question.
“What is your legacy?”
Still trying to sip some of the foam from the cup… “What?”
“You know, what is it that you hope to leave behind? What are you building? What impact to you hope to have beyond yourself and how will it remain?
The question challenged me. The question made me wonder about how we live our lives. My mind started to wander towards goals. Goals are great, but far too often, goals have a starting point and an endpoint. Once the goal is accomplished, we reach the destination and we stop.
A legacy is something you are building. Building something and arriving at a destination are not the same thing. A legacy challenges us to build our entire lives. A destination is simply a place we came to and stopped.
These thoughts wandered further towards the concept of retirement. For many retirement is a destination. Once you have enough resources, you arrive at your destination…and stop. You stop working, stop connecting, and stop building.
Legacy is calling. It is calling us to keep creating, keep contributing, and keep building. Legacy says there is still more to be done. Legacy shatters the myth that all of our accumulated experience and knowledge is no longer needed. Legacy reminds us that we are valuable, and the world needs us.
One simple question remains.
What is YOUR Legacy?
Today is the first time I am removing someone from my subscription list. Why am I telling you? It is important to the story. The removal is not for anything they said, or anything they did. Removing them is more of a painful housekeeping process because they passed away this week. It seems like the right thing to do, so these posts are not just one more detail or item to be dealt with by the family.
I have a friend who is currently writing a book called What Will They Say?, about the lessons learned by attending funerals of 30 strangers. Over the past year I have attended a few funerals/life celebrations and yesterday marked another. During these events, I find myself sitting there amazed at what you learn when people talk about those who have passed, and wondering how to apply some of the lessons you learn from others’ lives.
Yesterday was no exception. I learned about generosity combined with grace. I learned about a person who led in all aspects of life with a quiet perseverance that impacted many of those around them. I learned that despite being taught to take the safe route and to avoid disappointments in life by not dreaming, this person went to college, started businesses and the packed service was a testament to someone who impacted many.
Their passing was not a complete surprise, some illnesses are not swift and take us over a period of years. Because of this, there was some preparation for the recent events including the passing of the company to one of the children. A month or so ago, while celebrating the transfer of a business it became clear that the end was near and the night included celebrating the contributions and impact of this life. Unlike yesterday, they were still with us.
This event had a greater impact on me than imagined as I watched a business person, spouse, parent, and friend pass down a legacy to each group. I witnessed the gracious generosity of a less celebrated form of leader: one who is gentle, cares deeply, and does the right thing.
I will be taking them off the list today and it is harder than I thought. Perhaps that is part of my own grieving process to write about this, and challenge myself to live differently today. We don’t always know the impact we have on others (for good for bad) and while reflecting I wonder if this person knew how much impact they were having on me. Their impact on me was subtle, but there is something to be said about the impact of a life well lived. Maybe that was the best lesson of all.