Mention the names of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Eleanor Roosevelt, and people immediately associate each of them with their legacies. Reflecting on the lives of Albert Einstein, Gandhi, and Helen Keller will naturally call us to celebrate their life’s work and achievements. The achievements of each of these people were quite varied, important and far-reaching. But don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll have to win the Nobel Peace Prize to have a legacy that matters; a modest life holds a powerful legacy too.
There was a time that each of us filled our lungs for the very first time with our first breath. Juxtapose this awareness in considering that you will one day empty your lungs as you exhale your very last breath too. All of the breaths you’ll take in-between will make up your personal timeline yielding your legacy. Whether a life lasts moments, months, or a century will not diminish this truth. Further, the value of a legacy is not measured by the degree of fame attained in life or in the size of our last will and testament. Although these can be components of the final footprint we will leave in this life, there is much more that makes up the awesome concept of a legacy. Mindfully creating our legacies as we make decisions, build relationships and invest our energy each day will leave us with greater peace when our last day– and last breath– arrives.
How do you mindfully create a legacy when it is something that seems so illusive and intangible? A legacy is most often built upon a lifetime of simple interactions and daily decisions. Occasionally legacies are built on a heroic act like that of Todd Beemer and Navy Seal Michael Monsoor. When Todd Beemer heroically stormed the cockpit of a hijacked plane with other passengers on September 11th and Michael Monsoor threw his body on a live grenade to shield his fellow Navy Seals from the blast, they were making decisions in the moment. And in the same way, our day-to-day decisions matter in constructing a life legacy too. Deciding who you will be in every day relationships, at work, and in moment-to-moment decisions will offer a great place to mindfully build your legacy.
Things to consider as you design your legacy:
- Financial abundance is more than a means to power, attainment of luxuries and security, but it is also an opportunity to further a cause, lift up individuals and support something you value. How can you put some of your financial resources to work for what and whom you value most?
- Your relationships and connections, whether they last a lifetime or mere moments, house the potential to propel people to greatness and inspired living. Recognize the gifts of those you meet, acknowledge the efforts of those who do a job for you and show gratitude without measure.
- Pour love and acceptance into a child. Whether you are a parent or not, you have the opportunity to mold a new generation with every interaction you have with a child. Buy some lemonade from the child who has set up a stand on the corner, mentor a child, donate to a scholarship fund or simply turn off your TV and cell phone when you are eating dinner with your child.
- Extend your sphere of influence. The Internet has made it possible for a woman who lives in South Carolina to learn from a woman who lives in South Africa. Be open to opportunities to positively impact people you may or may not ever meet in person.
- Seek opportunities to give help and give hope. These simple four letter words have a way on etching themselves on a person’s heart for a lifetime. An encouraging word, a leg-up, offering support in a crisis or a simple acknowledgment can provide the opportunity to completely change the trajectory of a person's life. And most often, it won’t even cost you a dime.
- Respect the planet and all living things. Switching to a refillable bottle for your gym jaunts may not seem like much, but the small decisions you’ll make to walk instead of drive or bring your own travel mug to the coffee shop to get your morning latte add up. Crank up your awareness that the earth is a living host.
- Be a person of integrity and you will earn the respect of those in your life. This will have your family and peers celebrating you and your biggest critics admiring you. This respect most often comes from speaking truth, acting humbly, and offering respect in your connections with others.
- Be a smile-maker. We are presented with countless opportunities every single day to make someone smile. Whether it is a compliment, a gesture of support or breaking out that hilarious one-liner at just the right time, seizing those opportunities imprints your legacy on the heart of another.
- Share your talents and natural-born gifts. Whether you own a company that builds beautiful homes or you are responsible for lovingly landscaping them, share your innate talents with the world. Your beautiful voice, ability to advocate for another or gentle manner with a child are examples of some of the things that are unique and special that you have to offer the world.
- Participate in values-based work. Honoring your values in your work will carry over to your home life too. This creates a whole-life scenario that is congruent with your core beliefs. This is a powerful element to include when creating a legacy you’ll love. Participating in work that opposes your values will erode your health, level of happiness and muddy the vision of your legacy .
When Mattie Stepanek was approaching the end of his short life he asked his mother Jeni, “Have I done enough? Will it last?” This young man of 13 had not only appeared on The Oprah Show many times promoting his message of peace, but enjoyed a very special, personal friendship with Oprah too. Mattie wrote several New York Times best-selling books, inspired audiences of thousands with his eloquent speeches, and raised millions for MDA. So one might wonder how it is possible that this child, who was an acclaimed poet, peacemaker and philosopher could possibly query his mom in this way. The answer to this is that it is in our nature to wonder if our life has made a difference in the world. We want to know that the world is somehow better because we were here. We want to feel extraordinary—even if it is well-hidden in the ordinary aspects of our lives.
President Jimmy Carter eulogized Mattie saying, “We have known kings and queens, and we’ve known presidents and prime ministers, but the most extraordinary person whom I have ever known in my life is Mattie Stepanek.” And the truth is, whether a person lives thirteen seconds or lives to 113; his life matters and holds a legacy. Mattie taught us to distinguish being important from being famous and that it is a right and a gift to be able to touch another human being. So if you want a place to mindfully begin building a legacy you will love, why not begin there?
Rena M. Reese is the founder of Soul Salon International, an inspirational multimedia company. She is the author of several inspirational titles, a professional speaker and coach as well as the host of a weekly radio program, The Soul Salon.. Please visit www.SoulSalonInternational.com and connect with her on Twiiter @TheSoulSalon.