We all want to leave our mark on this world—to know that our life mattered.
What does it mean to leave a legacy? It means putting a stamp on the future, and making a contribution to future generations. People want to leave a legacy because they want to feel that their life mattered.
Deciding what your legacy will be can help you with all the following:
- Once you know what you want your legacy to be, you can start building it.
- You can start living in the way you want to be remembered.
- It will allow you to start doing what matters, now.
- Knowing what you want your legacy to be will allow you to make better use of your time and other resources.
- It will influence your day-to-day decisions in a positive way.
- Gaining clarity on what you want your legacy to be can give your life meaning and purpose.
- It will enable you to allow the legacy that you’re building to determine how you show up in the world each day.
- You will live your life as if you matter.
Below you’ll find seven ways to identify the legacy that you want to leave behind after you’re no longer here.
What Will Your Verse Be?
Dead Poets Society is an American film set in 1959 at a fictional elite conservative boarding school located in Vermont. The film stars Robin Williams as John Keating, an English teacher who inspires his students through his teaching of poetry.
In one scene, Keating talks to his students about the meaning of life. Keating quotes from Walt Whitman’s poem, Oh Me Oh Life, as follows:
“Oh life! of the questions of these recurring, Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish. What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer: That you are here—that life exists and identity, That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
The poem explains that life is like a play, in which everyone who has ever lived gets to contribute a verse. Keating then asks the students: “What will your verse be?” The verse that you contribute to the play of life is your legacy.
See Yourself As a Relay Runner
In a relay race, members of a team take turns running while they hold a baton in their fist. Each team member runs a portion of the race, and then they hand the baton over to the next runner. One way to think of your life is to see it as a relay race. That’s how President Barack Obama thinks of his life.
On May 25th of this year, Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met in Berlin for a discussion on democracy. Here’s what Obama said about leaving a legacy:
“I saw myself as a relay runner. I would take the baton and I would run my leg of the race. And then I’d pass the baton to someone else. . . Each generation tries to make progress knowing that what we do is not going to be perfect. . . But, hopefully, we’ve run our leg of the race effectively – and the world’s gotten a little bit better.”
How are you doing on your leg of the race? Are you advancing the baton? What are you doing to advance the baton?
Picture Your 80th Party
Most of us are familiar with Stephen Covey’s obituary exercise. Covey indicates that you should imagine your funeral. Then, you should ask yourself questions like the following:
- Who would give a eulogy at your funeral?
- What will they miss about you?
- What positive attributes will they associate you with?
- How are they describing you?
Imagining your funeral is a little macabre, so a variation of this exercise is to picture your 80th birthday party. Everyone you’ve had an impact on, or have influenced in some way, is there. As they get up to toast you on your birthday, what would you like them to say about you? That’s what you want your life to stand for.
What Words Do You Want Etched On Your Tombstone?
Before his death, Thomas Jefferson–the third president of the United States–gave instructions on what he wanted on his grave site. Jefferson wanted an obelisk with the following engraved on it:
Here was buried Thomas JeffersonAuthor of the Declaration of American IndependenceOf the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom& Father of the University of Virginia.
Leave a Legacy – Questions to Ask Yourself
These 10 questions will help you to identify the legacy that you wish you leave:
- What do you want your life to stand for?
- How do you want to be remembered by your family and friends?
- What will those beyond your circle of family and friends remember you for?
- What kind of an impact do you want to have on your community?
- How will the world be a better place because you were in it?
- What contributions do you want to make to your field?
- Whose lives will you have touched?
- What lessons would you like to pass on to future generations?
- What do you want to leave behind?
- How can you serve?
20 Ways to Leave a Legacy
Brainstorm ways in which you can leave a legacy by using the following ideas as a jumping off point:
- Add knowledge to your field.
- Leave a legacy through your body of work.
- Write a book.
- Leave money for your descendants that serves as a foundation on which they can build their financial futures.
- Bequeath money to charities that are near and dear to your heart.
- Write down family recipes and family traditions.
- Serve as a good role model.
- Pass down a heirloom.
- Be a mentor.
- Start a business or a non-profit organization.
- Write your memoir. You can also record video messages for your loved ones, create a scrapbook for them, or create a web site dedicated to your legacy.
- Endow a scholarship to your alma mater for future students.
- Write a legacy letter — write down everything you’d want to tell your loved ones if you knew you didn’t have long to live. Be sure to capture the essence of who you are by writing about your life lessons, values, accomplishments and hopes. Think of it as an emotional heirloom.
- Start a blog.
- Pass down handmade items, such as quilts, cedar hope chests, or wooden crafts.
- Start a new program in your community, such as starting a recycling program; planting a community garden; or constructing a playground.
- Pass down skills and know-how.
- Right a wrong.
- Identify your strengths, develop your skills, and be true to who you are.
Leave a Legacy Quotes
Here are 10 legacy quotes for further inspiration:
“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” —Benjamin Franklin
“Immortality is to live your life doing good things, and leaving your mark behind.” —Brandon Lee
“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way. . . and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.” ― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
“Our days are numbered. One of the primary goals in our lives should be to prepare for our last day. The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions, but in the quality of our lives. What preparations should we be making now? The greatest waste in all of our earth, which cannot be recycled or reclaimed, is our waste of the time that God has given us each day.” ― Bill Graham
“The little bit you and me might change the world,” Malloy smiled, “it wouldn’t show up until a hundred years after we were dead. We’d never see it. But it’d be there.” ― James Jones, From Here to Eternity
“Try and leave this world a little better than you found it, and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate, you have not wasted your time but have done your best.” – Robert Baden-Powell
“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
“A writer doesn’t dream of riches and fame, though those things are nice. A true writer longs to leave behind a piece of themselves, something that withstands the test of time and is passed down for generations.” ~ C.K. Webb
“We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk
“While it is well enough to leave footprints on the sands of time, it is even more important to make sure they point in a commendable direction.” ~ James Cabell
What will you legacy be? What will live on after you’re gone? Live your best life by creating a legacy you can be proud of.