“The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” ~William James
I’ll never forget the call.
It was 1989 and, like most college students, I spent winter break in Florida looking for some sun. Stepping off the airplane and being greeted by a burst of warm air was the best. As I entered the terminal, I had the added benefit of being greeted by my maternal grandparents, who lived in North Miami Beach.
Lounging at the pool, going on walks with them, or eating out, the experience was a wonderful way to decompress after an intense period of finals.
Although being the oldest of six children came with big brother responsibilities, life was great and my worries were minimal.
That warm Wednesday afternoon in January, my grandparents and I spent the morning at the pool. We were just coming back when we received a call that would change my life forever: My mother had suffered a brain aneurysm.
She was just forty-four years old. How could this be happening? Just yesterday we spoke, she laughed, and now, within forty-eight hours, she’d passed away, leaving her parents, a husband, and six children, ages eight to twenty-one, to mourn her loss.
My world—our world—was turned upside down in an instant.
We don’t like to think about it, but the truth is our lives can change in an instant, as I discovered so powerfully back then. Reading this now is no guarantee that you will be here tomorrow. The question is whether or not we are doing the utmost today with the time we have left. No one on their death bed is asking for more money; they’re asking for more meaning.
In the words of Bob Marley, “Live for yourself and you will live in vain, live for others and you will live again.”
Our actions affect others. “What will be your legacy?” is a question for all of us to reflect upon. It’s a chance to consider past and present actions and vow to make positive changes that will affect not only ourselves and our current families, but possibly future generations. The seeds, whether positive or negative, that we plant today can make an enormous difference.
It’s important to understand that no matter what is happening in the world today, the first place to look is within ourselves. We have to ask the following questions each and every day:
1. What did I do today to uplift another person?
2. Is it possible I could have done more, given more, or listened more to those around me?
Take a quiet hour and dig deep within yourself. Who are you? Who do you want to be? If you could only speak one more time, what would you say? Why not say it now?
When I wake up in the morning, I recite a prayer not only in my belief in a higher power but in knowing that the new day is endowed with new possibilities for eternal impact unlike yesterday or tomorrow. This awareness inspires me to seize the day and seek opportunities to unleash kindness in every encounter, for I will not pass this way again.
If you want to create a life that fulfills your purpose and leaves the world a better place, if you want to create a legacy, here are some suggestions.
1. Be an agent of kindness.
When you walk into your local coffee shop or go to work, what can you do to make someone’s day? Pay for coffee for the person standing behind you? Smile and make eye contact with someone passing in the hall? Perhaps the person was having a tough day and by acknowledging them, you’ve made an impact on their lives. No encounter is random but an opportunity to spread some light.
2. Make courageous choices.
We make big and small choices every day, and some are easier than others. Most often we make decisions based on convenience. For example, we might not help someone who needs it because we think we’re too busy, or we might not pursue a career that makes a positive difference because it seems too hard. A courageous choice means we choose based on conviction. What is the right thing to do?
Upon reflection, many people regret the things they didn’t do. When we die, we won’t be judged against someone else’s life but against our own potential. Did we do the best we could with the hand we were dealt?
Wake up every morning and ask yourself, “What can I do today outside my comfort zone to live courageously and make a difference?” No one wants to be remembered for playing life safe but for doing what is right.
3. Seize meditative moments.
Meditate every day to reflect on your own humanity. Use prayers or poems or your own journal writings to think about who you are, your relationships and what you’ve done to make an impact. This gives you an opportunity to consider what you’ve done right, and what you need to correct.
4. Finding faith.
The sources of our faith may be in a higher power, within ourselves, or in friends or a spouse who believes in us more than we believe in ourselves so we can be our best and give our best back to the world. We need the strength they give us to show up every day and make a positive impact, because life can be hard sometimes. Who are your cheerleaders? Who can you depend on to support you in all your endeavors and encourage you when you’re feeling down?
5. Live inspired.
Living inspired stems from an awareness that life can change in an instant. Don’t wait for a huge loss to wake you up to your blessings. Take nothing for granted and don’t assume you’re owed anything. In the age of COVID in particular, we cannot take even one breath for granted.
Start a gratitude journal that lists new blessings every day. When we live with joy, we exude positive energy, which uplifts the people into our lives and creates a ripple of hope and optimism in our families, communities, and the world.
6. Discover your renewable energy.
Identify your talents and skills, and what makes you smile. Your life is a gift latent with infinite potential. When do you feel the most alive? Spending your time and energy on the areas in your life that give the most joy will renew your sense of meaning and purpose and motivate you to seize every day to make an impact and create a legacy.
Sometimes we think we have to be on the world stage in order to make a difference, but the truth is we all have the ability to choose between harm and healing. Your life is a candle. You are a flame. You can ignite thousands of lights in your world every day by intentionally building your own legacy.
Remember, you may not be able to change the entire world, but you can change the entire world of one person… and maybe many more.