Here’s a nice thought: we’re all going to die. And when that happens, I think we can agree that the majority of things you did and thoughts you thought will be rendered irrelevant.
And even though running around with your mortality top of mind when there’s laundry to do seems ridiculous, it’s important to think about once in a while. If we don’t acknowledge our own mortality then we run the risk of having boring lacklustre lives.
I’m talking about never doing anything.
I’m talking about only watching TV.
I’m talking about this quote I love from Rachel Hollis: “Every year you close a new chapter in your story. Please don’t write the same one 75 times and call it a life.”
Your legacy is a paradox
Even if you set an intention around it, at the end of the day (literally), it’s not for you. It’s for other people. The ones you leave behind.
My great-grandfather was a pharmacist, entrepreneur and overall hustler in Toronto at the turn of the last century. He got sh*t done. Did he focus on his legacy? I don’t know, because I never knew him, and even if our lifetimes had overlapped, pretty sure that’s not a discussion we would have had because (1) I would have been an infant and (2) we are WASPs who generally take decades to warm up to having a conversation with that level of personal truth.
However. I DO know a few things about this man, and I DO have a little insight into how some family members view his legacy:
- Inspirational entrepreneur. Carve a path and go for it.
- Take risks, and run with all your ideas.
- Keep on developing. Because we know he was constantly developing himself and that was part of his success.
- Warning: live your life while you have it – because he died in his fifties.
- Love hard. Because his love letters to his wife are witty and utterly adoring.
Same man, different legacies. And honestly, I’d love for him to see that list. Because maybe it would surprise him, and maybe those would be his five intentions for his life. We’ll never know.
Your legacy at work
Our culture doesn’t emphasize legacy in our work. Big, hierarchical organizations don’t lend themselves to it. We concentrate decision making authority at the very top. We are told to believe that real decision makers – and high-impact legacy-leavers – are few.
It’s far from perfect. But even if you’re in a workplace like that, you can still think about the legacy your’e leaving. And maybe it’s not the legacy you leave after your life ends, but the legacy you leave when you move on from that job. Maybe it’s the kind of person you were, and how you made others feel at work. Maybe it’s the projects you worked on, and how you left everything better than when you found it.
Yes, work is a catalyst. It’s changing you. And also, you have the ability to change IT.
Of course, your work doesn’t have to be your legacy
It’s not the only vehicle, far from it. Your legacy can be about the children you raised or the hours you volunteered or the way you left people feeling or your philanthropy or your garden or paintings or birdhouses. Your work doesn’t have to be your legacy.
But imagine if it was…
Imagine if your work was part of your legacy? Imagine if you took one third of your waking life and you found an organization or cause to roll it into it in a way that felt good? And you liked how it was shaping you into a better stronger more resilient more authentic version of yourself? And then you turned around after the whole thing and said “wow. I love what I did here. I really made a contribution. I’m proud of this legacy.”
You can do that
People do that. You can do that.
So, to the person who’s wondering and optimistic and maybe even idealistic and also resourceful and passionate and driven and willing to learn: YOU CAN DO THAT.
This is why we ask “What is work?” Because what work CAN be, in its best and highest iteration, is SERIOUSLY SO GOOD.
If you are called to leave a legacy (and you know if you are!!!), you can do that. Please, please, just decide to start.
If this gets you going, I have something for you! I work with clients who want careers aligned with WHO THEY ARE, and to do that they need to understand their values. If that’s you too, take the first step and get my free values worksheet HERE.