Is it time to start thinking about your legacy?

If you search the Internet you will find many articles about leaving a great legacy and such beautifully worded advice may suggest you think about how to impact your organisation and its people, with your legacy being the relative strength or value of the organisation you have created. But what if you choose to think more broadly about your legacy as a human on the planet?

From this perspective, a much better starting point might be to think about the things you have done that have [or will] touch the lives of others for generations to come.

One of my favourite Australian television shows is ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ A recent episode featured the Australian actor Kat Stewart (who happens to be one of my favourite Australian actors). It occurred to me while watching this episode that I have never seen anyone on this program care very much about how rich or famous their ancestors were … but everyone wants to discover their family member was a good person. The absolute delight of the featured celebrity is almost palpable when such a legacy is uncovered and their reaction is often accompanied by tears.

The decisions we make everyday impact future generations. When I think about my grandfather, born in 1899, I think of a man who fought in a world war aged 16-19; he lied about his age and enlisted when he was 16, which is the age my son will be in 6 months. He arrived in Sydney on 22 September 1921 at the age of 22, having saved enough money from his poorly paid job as a Scottish coalminer to buy passage to Australia. He worked as a coal miner in the NSW Hunter Valley and somehow saved enough money to buy passage for his parents and siblings.

In September 1923, 2 years after arriving in Australia, he was working as a coal miner at the Bellbird Colliery when a terrible explosion occurred. On that day 21 men died – 15 of them were brought to the surface by rescuers and my grandfather volunteered to be part of that rescue team. I cannot imagine the terrible scenes he must have faced that day, but that story makes me incredibly proud of the sort of man he was. Breaking the cycle of poverty may have taken a few generations, but his decisions and actions impacted the quality of life I enjoy today.

We all want our life to matter in some way and to be remembered for what we have contributed in the world. This is how we find meaning – by having an impact beyond our physical existence.

Over the past 18 months I have had the great joy of coaching a client who works in early childhood education. She recently took up a leadership role and has been incredibly brave over the past six months, making tough decisions and leading her team in a way that has won their trust and respect – her passion and compassion has reignited their love of what they do as educators. She has also won the support of the local community and the flow-on effect is the great benefit to the children at the Centre. Creating a better future for those children is how she finds meaning in her work (what Simon Sinek would refer to as her ‘why’) and she is building an incredible legacy.

If legacy is the idea of a life well lived and what you will leave future generations, what do you want your legacy to be? You can use these questions as a prompt to start thinking about how you want to be remembered by other people and then consider how you will act on those thoughts:

  • If your obituary were written this month, would you be troubled by the words? Or would you feel content.
  • How do you want others to describe the way you lived and what was important to you?
  • How do you want to be remembered by those whose lives you touch?

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others”.