The Oxford dictionary defines a ‘legacy’ as: “something handed down by a predecessor”.
It is something that we build, that is passed down from one generation to another. It’s also our way of contributing to the world long after we leave it; hopefully in a positive way.
If you were to leave this earth tomorrow, what would your legacy be?
Creating our legacy is not something that starts in our seventies. It starts right now, with how we choose to live each day of our lives.
In considering the question of legacies, I’m reminded of Leo Tolstoy’s novella, ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych.’
Ilych was a highly successful government lawyer who went to great lengths to cultivate the right political connections and move in the right social circles. He was a vain and unyielding social climber who married, not because he loved his wife, but because she was deemed to be a suitable match; and he had children not because he wanted a family, but because it was what was expected of him.
Fast forward to a few years later and Ilych’s opulent lifestyle began to take its toll. He lived well beyond his means and incurred mounting debts. As he was about to sink into a deep despair over his financial woes, he was promoted to a higher-paying job as a judge; but the more money he made, the more he spent in order to impress his peers.
One day, Ilych was having some drapes hung in his new mansion. As he climbed a ladder to show the upholsterer how to do it, he took a nasty tumble and hurt his side. Months of doctors’ visits failed to produce a happy conclusion; and as he grew weaker from his illness, he began to reflect on his life.
For the first time, he realized that he’d spent his life jockeying for social position and power; and missed every opportunity to make a positive difference. He spent the last three days of his life screaming, but was powerless to change the past.
Two hours before he died, Ilych’s young son, who was deeply troubled by his father’s illness crept into his room, knelt beside his father’s bed and began to cry.
His father put his frail hand on his head and realized that while he may not be able to change the past, it was not too late to make a positive difference through his presence.
As his final act, he asked his young son to leave the room so that he wouldn’t have to endure any more of his father’s suffering. With that, he took his last breath and died.
When you get to the end of your life ÔÇô and none of us knows when that will come – will you be screaming, full of regret, like Ivan Ilych; or will you be content because you lived a happy life; and contributed the very best of yourself to the world?
In order to answer this question, I’d like you to consider one thing: that maybe our ultimate purpose in life is to be happy.
Our joy, and everything that stems from it, is the greatest legacy that we can leave to the world. It’s reflected not only in our own lives, but in the lives of those around us.
Unless we’re happy, we can’t contribute to the happiness of other people. So, as a start to creating your own great legacy, take some time to commune with yourself and with God, and determine what makes you thrive.
Once you know what that is, you’re in a powerful position. Your life becomes one of seeking and fulfilling your deepest desires.
If you’re courageous enough to pursue what you want, it must come into your life. Jesus said, “Ask and it shall be given unto you.” He didn’t say, ‘sometimes.’
People with great legacies live this great truth. They know that their happiness doesn’t depend on other people. Because of that, they’re not out manufacturing conflicts, trying to get other people to do what they want. They’re at peace, with themselves and with the world.
People with poor legacies try to blame other people for what’s going wrong in their lives. They don’t realize that no matter what we want, God has a myriad ways to give it to us. Even if it seems at odds with what other people want, God can fulfill all our requests. His resources are not scarce; and the universe is truly unlimited.
Other people can never be an obstacle to your joy and success, unless you give them that power. Your happiness lies in our own hands; you create your own reality. Let go of your fear and the need to control other people.
Do yourself (and the world) a favour: find out what makes you happy; and then pursue it. Write your own legacy, starting now.
Imagine you’re in the final moments of your life; and you’ve lived a happy, fulfilling life? When people who know you are recalling that life, which accomplishments of yours do they single out? What contribution do they say you made to your family, your country; and to the world? What about the way you treated other people?
Write those sentiments down. This is no time to modest ÔÇô make sure yours is a truly great legacy.
Next, ask yourself what your plan is to bring your legacy to life. Do the way you live your life; and the actions you take every day, support its fulfillment? If they don’t, start finding ways to modify your life to make sure that they do.
Set aside what you’ve written and read it again at least one year from now. Have you made any progress towards your legacy? Do you need to rewrite it to make it bolder?
When you were born, the world rejoiced while you cried. Live your life in such a way that when you die, the world cries while you rejoice. What’s your legacy?