“Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever; you just have to live.” ~Natalie Babbitt
Recently I was searching for information online about a friend of mine who I lost touch with about a decade ago.
Pam and I went to psychology graduate school together in the early nineties and stayed in touch for a few years after that. But in those pre-Facebook days it was easy to lose touch with people, and Pam and I eventually drifted apart.
Curious about what my friend was up to, I typed her name into Google. Imagine my shock when I found her obituary. It turns out that she had died three years ago from colon cancer at the still young age of forty-four.
Even though Pam and I lost touch a long time ago, learning about her death hit me hard. Months later, I’m still shocked that she’s no longer with us.
Pam’s death was also a wake-up call for me. As a gift to future generations, I want to use my life to create a powerful legacy and to make a positive contribution to the world. Yet, up to this point in my life, I haven’t taken intentional actions that will create the type of legacy that I want.
And while I hope to live for at least another forty years, the date of my death is outside of my control. Like my friend, I could die at any time.
But no matter how many or how few years I have left, I absolutely have the ability to positively impact the world and touch lives far into the future. And so do you!
The truth is that we create legacies with every single action that we take. The question we need to ask is whether or not were taking intentional actions to create the type of legacy that we want to create.
After much reflection, I came up with the following seven ideas for how I plan on building a powerful legacy with my life. I hope that they inspire you to do the same and without needing the wake-up call that I received.
1. Decide what legacy you want to create.
In order to create a powerful legacy with your life, you need to decide what contribution you want to make to the world. I suggest spending some time journaling and reflecting on the following questions:
- If you knew with certainty that you only had five more years to live, how would you spend those years, and why?
- What message do you want to send with your life to the world and to those who matter most to you?
- Imagine that you are attending your own funeral. What would you want your family and friends to say about you and how you lived your life?
2. Start creating your legacy today.
We all have a limited time on this planet. And yet, we often live our lives as if our time was unlimited, putting things off, thinking that we’ll always have more time. I’m sure my friend Pam was expecting to live a lot more than forty-four years.
Yet the truth is that none of us knows how long we’ll live. If you want to create a powerful legacy with your life, then you need to stop wasting time and start creating it today.
Look over your answers to the questions from Point 1. Based on your answers to those questions, identify three to five specific goals you can set for creating the legacy that you want. Then, for each goal, figure out the first step you can take and start taking it today!
3. Simplify your life and focus on the essentials.
Another friend of mine, who died a few years ago, created a powerful legacy by simplifying his life and focusing on the essentials. John centered his life around three main things—building powerful connections with others, creating beautiful art, and cultivating his own spiritual growth.
I would guess that most of John’s life energy was devoted to these three activities. John didn’t let himself get distracted by trivial or meaningless pursuits.
Learn from my friend John. Figure out the two to four things that are most important to you and put the bulk of your energy into those activities while letting go of the rest.
4. Treat everyone you meet with kindness.
A powerful legacy can often be created with the simplest actions. Simple acts of kindness have been known to change lives in powerful ways.
And a simple act of kindness can inspire acts of kindness by others—which means that every time you touch someone’s heart with your kindness, you create positive ripples, ripples that will last for a long, long time.
You can even create a kindness ritual. For example, sparked by my friend’s death, I’ve decided to contact one friend a week, and send them a short note letting them know what they mean to me.
5. Serve to the best of your ability.
None of us can do it all and none of us is perfect. And yet we often use those as excuses to do nothing. We do nothing because we can’t do everything or we do nothing because we can’t do what we want perfectly.
My suggestion is to just serve to the best of your ability. Do your part to make the world a better place, and stop worrying about the fact that you can’t do everything or that you can’t do it perfectly. The truth is that we can all do something to serve and doing that something creates a much more powerful legacy than doing nothing.
6. Do the next right thing.
Maybe you don’t know what kind of legacy you want to create with your life. I completely understand that. We live in a complicated, overwhelming world in which our attention is pulled in a thousand different directions.
If that’s how you’re feeling, then I suggest that you focus on doing the next right thing every time you’re faced with a choice or decision. Every time you do the right thing—however you define it—you create a powerful chain of actions which leads directly to a powerful legacy.
7. Remind yourself that you have limited time.
In certain Buddhist traditions, people are taught to imagine a little bird on their shoulder and to ask that bird every day if today is their last day.
Repeatedly using this technique or similar ones reminds us to make good use of our time and that we need to work toward creating our legacy every single day.
A few days ago, a friend told me in an email that she didn’t think she had a legacy. The truth though is that we all create legacies with our lives.
The question isn’t whether or not we’re creating a legacy. The question is whether or not we’re actively creating the legacy that we want to. Incorporate some of the suggestions above, begin leading your life deliberately, and I have no doubt that you’ll create a powerful legacy that will last for generations.
Man silhouette via Shutterstock