Your legacy is the gift you leave behind.
Many people think leaving a legacy is all about money. They even regret not having enough of it to leave a significant amount to their heirs.
Legacy is not just about money, and it certainly isn’t just for famous people who invent, create art, write, or have buildings named after them. It is not limited to those who are activists, noble leaders or major players in history.
Good old regular people are creating a legacy every day, whether they know it or not. In fact, creating a legacy is not a choice, it just is. What we do, what we say, how we interact with people and the earth as a whole is a legacy all its own.
For those who think they left nothing, let it be known that nobody leaves nothing. Like it or not, we are leaving the next generations more than we can imagine.
That could be a sizable fortune to a national park or a university or family, and that is absolutely leaving a mark. It also could be those incomprehensible tweets of stupidity, or the less-than-attractive but most definitely memorable photos on Facebook. Legacy is something that is a result of events in the past that influence the future.
Not everyone is in a position to financially support a worthy cause, but everyone can verbally give a boost, write a letter or offer assistance of time, talent, and raising consciousness for the things that matter. If we can’t give $10,000 to a school, maybe we can tutor a child. If we can’t donate financially to an organization, we can give our time volunteering.
Leaving a positive legacy begins with doing no harm. Harsh words can linger for a lifetime. Damage to body or soul can destroy humans. Environmental destruction can plague generations. These all are our legacy.
We have all heard of the butterfly effect. Used first in science, and now for almost anything. In short, the question was presented at the 139th meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”
The MIT meteorology professor who introduced this idea never meant for it to take on a life of its own in movies, books and psychology. I know. If it relates the idea that there are interdependent cause and effect relationships that are too complex to understand, but they exist, use it with abandon. We don’t have to challenge Sir Isaac Newton to know that we all leave a footprint, and sometimes it is on someone’s heart forever.
Leaving chaos or destruction, the legacy of the Civil War, the legacy of polio, the legacy of domestic violence, in our wake can cause permanent alterations to attitudes and cultural changes.
Legacies are created and rewritten every day. We get to be the authors. We can’t rewrite the yearbook quote that has us doomed to partying until 3 a.m. the rest of our lives, but we can prove it wrong. We can hand off a society that is a bit improved, a bit more civil, a bit healthier.
We leave behind memories, examples, and yes sometimes even a little cash.
Ralph Waldo Emerson has a poem titled “What Is Success?” I often read this at the end of a leadership training and years ago, before Google, I had a copy without an author attached so I said it was by anonymous, who of course was a woman. Now I know the author and must give credit where credit is due.
“To laugh often and love much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded,” Ralph Waldo Emerson. And this is legacy.