My dad Jimmy Henderson used to tell me, “Just because you’re here and breathing doesn’t mean the world owes you a thing. You’ve got to go out there and earn it.” I was only 23 when he passed away, but I still feel him with me and hear his voice inside my head. He didn’t have time to grow a great enterprise or amass a vast fortune, but he did leave me a legacy nonetheless. In fact, I’d rather have the three principles that my dad taught me than have been left with millions in the bank.
Be who you are
We’ve all been in those uncomfortable situations where people put on airs or play different roles depending on who they’re with. My dad taught me that I don’t have to pretend; I don’t have to wear a mask. He used to say, “Be who you are.” Own it. Be who you were made to be. This is what allows me to be comfortable around others, even in a room full of strangers.
Invest in people, not things
It’s people who are the real asset, and not the money they have in the bank, or the business they own. My dad saw value in everyone he met, even if they didn’t have a degree or a long list of credentials. He would find ways to give them opportunities to learn, to grow, to become what he saw they could become. That’s something I keep with me to this day. When you really see people, you can interact with them in a more authentic way, whether in your personal or professional life.
Work crazy hard
The world is full of noise, it’s sometimes hard to cut through it all and get yourself noticed. As one of nine siblings in a noisy family, my dad grew up with the mentality that if you want something, you have to earn it. He used to say, “Don’t show up here and try to impress me with your title and your position. Show me what you can do and what kind of person you are.” That’s pretty powerful stuff, and a very different message than a lot of kids get from their parents today.
Which leads me to the message here: If you pass something along that is living in somebody else, then a piece of you will live forever.
Sure your physical body will some day pass away–let’s be real. But a memory is one of the few things that has the potential to last forever. Not only do I carry my dad’s memory with me, but I live by principles that he taught me. When you have a memory that teaches you something valuable about yourself, the world, or other people, what greater gift is there?
I’m in the financial industry, so it’s my job to help people grow their wealth. A lot of people think that legacy building starts with the dollars in the bank, but that’s not where the real wealth is at all. Legacy is about what’s inside you, and what you leave behind to live inside others. It’s about the immortal gifts you can give others that help them be able to create the most favorable conditions to live a meaningful and fulfilling life.
Don’t wait until you’re making enough money, until you have a better job, or until you’re retired to start leaving your legacy. Start now. As my father taught me, none of us are guaranteed the promise of another day. You don’t know whether your journey here on earth will end 30 years from now or tomorrow. What are you teaching others about the kind of person you are? What are you doing today to teach your kids principles that they can pass on to their kids, to their grandkids, and to the generations behind them? If you want to become immortal in their eyes, start by making three investments that pay out the kind of dividends that transcend time.
Investment #1: Give your time
Sure, money is great and having stuff is cool, but most kids would rather have ten minutes of your undivided attention than ten bucks in the bank. My dad ran his own business, but still he made time to coach my football team. This is how I remember him best: wearing his coaching shorts and the extra-tall baseball cap. His presence out there on that field told me that I was worth it, I mattered. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until you can take a day off or go on a real vacation. Start making small investments of your time with whatever time you have now, even if it’s just five or ten minutes.
Investment #2: Nurture your relationships
I can’t tell you the number of times someone I hardly even knew gave me a hand up just because they knew my father. “You’re Jimmy’s son,” they would say, “Let me help you with that.” When he died at the age of 49, I couldn’t believe all the people who showed up for his funeral. It seemed like the entire town was there. While not everyone has that kind of outgoing personality, it’s always true that the most important person in the room is the person you are with. Relationships require regular investments, the way you build anything of real value.
Investment #3: Create unique experiences
A unique experience can be as simple as a trip to the aquarium or a breakfast in the backyard. Look for opportunities to create memories with the people important in your life. Find out what makes them light up, what they find interesting, or share with them what you find to be of value. Whatever it is, these experiences won’t just happen by themselves. They have to be intentionally planned for.
Building a legacy isn’t just about the money in the bank or the things you find on your balance sheet. This will help them more in life and last them much longer than handing over a check. And someday when you meet your demise, should you look down at the world from the great beyond, you’ll be able to smile with a knowing recognition because a piece of you will still be here, living on forever inside the people that you care about the most.
Now how amazing is that?
Photo: Flickr/ Lies Thru a Lens