By definition, a legacy is something that comes down to someone from a predecessor or from the past. Most of us want to leave behind some kind of legacy for our children and grandchildren, or for future generations.
Many people think of a legacy only in terms of some financial bequest or gift. Those with the means to do so might build a wing on a hospital or fund a professorship or a scholarship. And these are wonderful and meaningful ways to leave behind a legacy. A legacy can mean many things besides money or endowed professorships or hospital wings it can also be ancient wisdom or a contagious commitment to improving the community, or even the story of our lives, the good times and the bad times, and the important life lessons we learned.
Some people simply want to try to teach future generations so they will not make the same mistakes. There are many ways to leave a meaningful legacy, even if you are not wealthy.
Here are a few ideas to start your thinking about the kind of legacy you might want to leave behind:
1. Share the stories your predecessors passed down to you.
Many stories are actually living accounts of history. If they are not passed down, they are lost. Whether you record them on audio or video storage or you write them down, it is safe to assume that. Another way to leave family stories behind is to work with your local library or an internet site and let them help you record the stories.
2. Share your thoughts on the big events of your lifetime.
Each of us has lived through a time of many monumental historical and social events and changes. Your thoughts and reactions to those events tell the stories from different angles. Your point of view might be very important to future generations. Share your actions, but also share your reactions—your thoughts and feelings. Share your thoughts about how those events changed your life and the lives of others.
3. Share your reasons for the deeply held beliefs and commitments of your life.
Share the principles by which you live. It is often fairly easy for later generations to get a sense of what we did in our lives. It is not always so easy to understand why we did things or made choices. Understanding how your beliefs influenced your life might help someone else discover a helpful approach to directing their lives.
4. Share the stories of why some of the things you will leave behind are important to you.
It is not uncommon for a grandchild to be left some seemingly insignificant item when a grandparent passes on. It means far more when they are also given an explanation of why you cherished the item and why you chose that individual to have the item when you are gone.
5. Share the joys in your life and the intangible things that made you who you are.
Write or record for the next generation why you love, for example, jazz or classical music. Tell them what it brings to your life. Leave behind a list of the books you found meaningful and think everyone should read—and tell them why.
Each of us is a link in the chain of life. Every part of the legacy we leave behind keeps a chain intact. The parts of the legacy we don’t pass on may be lost forever. No matter who you are, where you live, or what you did for a living, you are a unique and important individual.
Your experience matters.
As you design your personal legacy, don’t forget to pass on the extremely important intangibles that give life true meaning.
Photo courtesy of Exquisite Safaris. Photo of Himba children and David Chamberlain in Namibia.
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