How To Leave Your Legacy

photo kevin dooley

Eric Leech believes you should not only create your legacy. You should live it.

With Father’s Day behind us, it’s a good time to look at the man behind the curtain and consider the legacy you’re leaving behind. When some guys hear the word “legacy” they begin to worry about their portfolio, life insurance, and lingering debt. These are all important, and while it is true that your legacy can include money, property, and financial inheritance, you might want to consider most important the difference you’ve made in the world. Your legacy will become how you are remembered by those who are closest to you—friends, family, readers, fans, and business associates.

What is Your Legacy?
A legacy is a gift (or message) to the world in the form of a donation, property, money, stocks, personal artifact, or advice. It could be encouragement to your kids, a confession to your wife, or a share of stock to your business partner. It could be a priceless, ancient relic; a birdhouse built when you were eight years-old, or a request of where you would like your final resting place to be.

A legacy is not an ego trip based on how much you will be leaving behind. In its most practical form, it is the goal to leave the world in slightly better condition than how you entered it. If you are a father, you probably understand the feeling of wanting to leave something better for someone else. The comfort in knowing that the sacrifices you’ve made will go towards a better life for someone, and it will be remembered and appreciated.

Of course, I am looking at this behind somewhat burgundy stained eyeglasses, so I invite you to join me as we dig deeper into how your own legacy can allow you to sleep soundly at night. To feel confident in knowing that you have accomplished most everything you set out to do, and that the world will be a better place because of your existence.

The Pillars From Which Legends are Made
If you perceived your life in the same way as Erik Erikson, you would believe you are “what survives you.” If you think about it this way, you can understand the motivation to share your knowledge, discoveries, and advice with others. Any lasting legacy may be fostered through your career, property ownership, finances, possessions, body of work, life’s lessons, personal brand, bucket list, or decision to continue from where another person has left off. Within these pillars of legends, you will notice that some venues offer more longevity than others. In other words, there are some things in life that may outlast you, but may not necessarily continue much beyond that. Let’s start from the least memorable, and move to the options that have the most potential.

Property/Money: Property and money are one of the most common forms of legacy a man can leave behind. However, these are not always as memorable as one would hope. In many ways, giving away a large sum of money or property early would prove more beneficial, as you can oversee its use, and bypass a lot of red tape and taxes. In addition, most inheritances are lost almost as quickly as lottery winnings. This means that your gift may only be remembered for the first plastic surgery, or SUV purchase.

Donate to a Cause: There are many causes in the world that are looking for your support. By donating your time, attention, and/or money to something you believe in, you can empower its existence for many years to come. Many of these places offer thanks to your financial donations in the form of leaving behind your name in remembrance. In the case of large donations, you could even have an entire building/wing named in your honor.

Bucket List: A list of future accomplishments will motivate you to leave fond memories for yourself, and others around you. Research suggests that one of the best ways to make yourself happy, is to invest in as many life experiences as possible. However, don’t think of this as one last hurrah before the curtain closes. You never know when the curtain is going to be drawn, so live your life to the fullest, making memorable moments with everyone you meet.

Possessions of Emotional Value: Look around your home and think about what objects in your possession were given to you by someone special. There is a good chance that each time you cross by them, you briefly remember the person who gave them to you. These are small legacies, but they can still be very powerful under the right context. Unfortunately, many of these items lose their personal importance the further down the generation pool they travel.

Career: If your life’s work has focused around your career, hopefully you have invested in a staff that possess that same energy, loyalty, and talent, so they will continue to accomplish your goals long after you’re gone. This alone can make a lot of business professionals sleep soundly at night.

Personal Brand: Google your name, and pay close attention to the top five results. This is the legacy you are currently leaving for anyone who searches you. Consider that almost anything can show up on Google, from party pictures on Facebook, to a past court appearance. Your personal brand is what your name stands for to those who know/knew you, and what others will hear of you. Protect your brand, as Google will ensure it is around long after you’re gone.

Your Own Life’s Lessons or Values: One of the most effective means to transfer a legacy is through another human being. Many leaders make their life’s work about their organization structure or product design. Most of these objects will be short-lived within today’s technology. The best way to invest your energy is by instilling lessons and values to those around you, who will have the capability to continue your work (or teachings).

Building from Another’s Legacy: Speaking of life lessons, a shortcut to building a great legacy, is to build on from where someone else has left off. Think of this as a company that your father left to you, or a design that your grandpa assigned to you in his will. Rather than starting from scratch, you have the opportunity to build from previous work, which gives the advantage to accomplish more. This can boost your chances of making a greater contribution to the world, but it will be up to you to make sure the previous benefactor’s sacrifices are also remembered.

Body of Work: While most objects will not last beyond a couple decades, a body or work can impact the world for centuries to come. Just think about the books (bible, etc.), art, and inventions that have crossed over from a popular (or not so popular) trend, to a monumental point in history. This is not an easy feat to accomplish, but there are many levels of this kind of success, so even a self-published book that receives minimal attention could be a legacy worth being proud of.

Deciding on Your Legacy
Your legacy should be a labor of love, and never a chore. Begin by creating a statement summarizing your purpose in life. Now, think about what it is that you want? Think of why you want it so much, and what you could do to achieve that feeling with a single action? There is a good chance that your answer had little to do with your initial proposal. This exercise will help you discover what it is that you truly want out of life. Then it will be up to you to discover the most effective way to with others.

Keep your purpose in mind throughout your journey, and use it to keep you stay on track. Just remember, a legacy is rarely stagnant. It must change as you grow, develop, and learn; but that is all a part of discovering your true path.

Live Your Legacy
Now that you understand what a legacy can be, the more important question is, how can you motivate yourself to use your talent and skill to illuminate the lives of future generations? How can you realize your potential and path to create a body of work (or followers) that you can be proud of?

When all is said and done, a good man is not judged by the number of accomplishments that have been added to his life, but the life that has been added as a direct result of these accomplishments. There are no small men, only small dreams that have the potential to one day become a single gesture that will add to the growing legacy of who you are today, and hopefully many decades to come.

photo: Kevin Dooley / flickr

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About Eric Leech

Eric Leech writes at Urbasm - a guide for men in the city, and covers everything from dating and self-improvement to gear, gadgets and style.

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