What is a legacy and why is it important to the purpose and goals of anyone who wishes to make a difference in the world? In this Blog I’ll describe my personal definition of legacy and how it can dramatically change the way you feel about, and approach, your ability to create something lasting and meaningful.
I’ll start by defining “legacy” in modern accepted terms. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary there are three ways modern society uses the term legacy. The first is as “a gift by will, especially money or other personal property.” The second way a legacy is described is “something transmitted or received from an ancestor or predecessor from the past. Finally, a legacy often refers to “a candidate for membership in an organization (such as a school or fraternal order) who is given special status because of familial relationship to a member.”
My own definition borrows from all three of these and refines things a bit in a sort of “custom fit legacy” way. I define my personal legacy as being an “Arts Legacy”. What exactly do I mean by an Arts Legacy? In simplest terms it describes my interest and participation in the creative arts of photography, digital visual art, writing and teaching. It’s what I do...and that in the simplest terms is what a legacy truly is. Whatever we set our mind, hand and heart to becomes our legacy once we’ve completed our physical life. It’s what lives on in other people’s memories, in books, Blogs, and the physical icons we create that say to anyone wishing to notice, “hey, I was here and this is what I did while I was.”
What a sobering thought. If you want to experience how sobering this can be I encourage you to participate in an exercise I’ve come across in reading and listening to others who encourage it. The operative word here is “courage”. Often people won’t even attempt this exercise because they pretty much know how things will go. Following is a description of the actual exercise. I encourage you to do it.
First, imagine that you’ve ended your days here on earth. You’ve lived a full life and your friends and family have gathered in your memory at a ceremony where someone who knows you very well will read your eulogy. It’s a solemn moment as people come together to hear the words describing what your life meant to many of them and what accomplishments they will remember most.
The ceremony begins and the speaker proceeds to share your life in words. What will they say? Take a few moments to examine your life from the perspective of this happening right now, today, this very moment. Think only of the positive things and of what you’ve accomplished to this point, what differences you’ve made in the lives of these people gathered together, and how this may make them feel about you. What memories might they recall? What moments will be most prominent in their recollections? This takes courage if you are totally honest. Because despite all the good things you will more than likely begin to think of the things you haven't accomplished yet or put on the proverbial back burner. This exercise may cause emotions to surface that you’ve hidden away and, perhaps, chosen not to share with yourself for any number of reasons. This can be both painful and a relief as you face the reality of your life and existence to this point.
Now let’s step back from the raw emotions of this exercise and begin to create. Create your own eulogy, not from your current reality but one designed from your hopes and dreams, the ones you’ve been harboring about the successes and accomplishments you are yet to experience. Let your imagination carry you to the greatest heights of what you desire your eulogy to sound like when read by others. Each of us carries a good sized bag of our seeds of success around with us, those things which we passionately desire to plant some day and look back on with pride and fulfillment as they grow and blossom into a lush garden of success. Imagine and write down every word that you would like someone to read at your memorial, Let the thought that as they do every person in attendance nod in agreement, knowing every word is not an embellishment to simply be nice but can be factually proven.
What you’ve just done, should you choose to participate in this exercise, is create a path, a plan, a direction in which to move your heart, mind, and life. In so doing you’ve succeeded in accomplishing the very first step on the adventurous journey to imagining and then creating, a personal legacy. Congratulate yourself because you’ve done more than most people will ever consider. Now comes the hardest and most challenging yet fulfilling and fun part. You must set to work creating a plan of action for each facet of the legacy you have pre-created for yourself.
So far I’ve lived my legacy and am challenged daily to continually do so. Is it easy? Not in the least. Would I give it up? No way. Would I change anything about what I’ve done so far? Let’s just say I’ve experienced and learned a lot while following my chosen path. How has it worked out thus far? Your here reading this aren’t you? The words I write and speak, this Blog, the art I create, the inspiration I share and the teaching I do are a small portion of this personal path to the meaningful legacy I set my foot upon when I was still in high school. During those earliest years I had no idea this is actually what I was doing. I just moved in what seemed like the proper direction for me and started doing it. I instinctively followed my head and my heart and did what I knew I had to do in order to use what I was given to work with. More on this in future Blogs.
I realize that this isn’t the usual case and I’m humbled and grateful for the fact that I did what simply came naturally to me. I have no explanation as to why it did. What it has done is made me realize that I must pass on what I’ve learned. Part of my personal legacy is helping others discover their creativeness in designing and building a life that fits their talents and passions, and for the right reasons, not those of someone else.
I’ll tie up my personal definition of legacy with a pretty little literary bow for you as example of a statement of promise to myself and the world at large. It's a broad overlook
of what I believe will help you create a personal legacy for yourself:
A personal legacy of meaning and purpose starts at the moment I begin to think in terms of why I exist and what I am going to do about it. My life is a gift, not to myself, but to those who I am blessed to share my journey with. Those who walk behind me and have shared their gift by showing me the way, those who grant me the gift of walking beside me and sharing this path, and those who are ahead of me, shining the gift of their light on the path I have chosen. It is my mission in this life therefore to be a gift of humbleness and light to those who come after I have moved beyond the path I am on.
Whether family, friend, acquaintance or foe, all deserve to see my very best with what I have been given to share. My legacy is what I’ll leave behind and I have promised myself and others that it will be good, exemplary, and worthy of remembering. I don’t strive for fame, fortune or glory. That is secondary to what is most important. I strive for what is right and worthy for reasons that shine a light not on me but on others so they may see, and follow in their own unique and creative way.
This may not be your legacy. In fact I wouldn’t expect it to be. I can only tell you what has appeared to work for me so far and encourage you to seek your own path and follow it. The key, I believe, is leaving a legacy that has an exemplary meaning and purpose that goes beyond the average.
In coming Blog entries we’ll take a deeper dive into the end of the pool where your dreams and desires either sink into the depths of oblivion or they learn to swim. let’s agree to start by learning to tread water. Shall we?
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