I spend a lot of time with senior executives coaching them towards high performance. When discussing where they want to make a difference or have an impact before they leave this earth, I get a lot of blank looks. Most people have given very little consideration to what they will leave, how they will help others, develop best practice research or content or assist people or causes.
When you think about the whole notion of legacy, I can understand why people are reluctant to discuss it. It draws attention to the fact that our time is finite, time is precious and really gets us to question what we are here for. Why are we on this planet and what is the best way I can contribute? Very hard questions that really bring in to sharp focus the value of reflection. Without it, we are often too busy on the treadmill of life to step off to slow down and reflect on what really matters.
Where one can get inspiration from around legacies is to read the obituaries in the paper of people who have recently passed. Further, the weekend paper often have more detailed write ups of people who have lived wonderful lives, contributed a great deal and really made a difference why they have been with us. What strikes you when you read these is what they contain. There is no mention of houses, cars, beach houses, money or how many hours they worked a week. Even the jobs, titles and positions they held are rarely if at all mentioned. All the extrinsically motivated status, symbols and toys are barely discussed.
Where most of the discussion takes place in their obituaries is around people and contribution. Their children and family they leave behind, the charities they have assisted, the causes they were passionate about and the difference they made. Beautiful words and thoughts around their legacy and what they were passionate about. All are driven from within from an intrinsic motivation to make the world a better place.
Speaking of planets and legacy, perhaps the best example of this was watching Andrew Denton a number of years ago. David Suzuki the world renowned environmentalist was being interviewed. Andrew mentioned to David a list of all his great achievements and how proud he should be of all of these. Andrew then asked the pivotal question to David which was “given all your achievements, what do you believe will be your greatest legacy?”. Without a moments hesitation came back the reply “Andrew, that is very easy to answer, it will be my children”. A profound and wise answer from an exceptional human being.
You cannot take things, titles or assets with you to the grave. You and your impact will however live on strong through the lives you change, the children and people you develop and the way you have served others. Start with the end in mind and think about your last hours paragraph and what they will say at your funeral. Not only will it sharpen your focus on what’s important, it should act as your true north as you look to leave your legacy.
Live a life worth living!