I’ve always had an independent streak. The second phrase I uttered on this earth was “I’ll do it myself” (right after “I want a cracker”). Maybe that’s why I’ve always interpreted the word “legacy” as it relates to my personal actions. What am I going to be remembered for?
Unsurprisingly, I’ve never been motivated to spend much time plotting my legacy. After all, I’ll be dead by the time people start to say, “Remember Sarah J. Bray? Remember how much she liked toast, and how she built all of these nations? Remember how she loved people, and how she would serenade her family members in the kitchen? Remember how she read a billion books, and just could not stop learning and having new ideas?” I don’t need to plan my legacy for people to remember the strange and wonderful parts that make me me.
Still, there’s something about the idea of leaving a legacy that I can’t get away from. It used to be an important part of people’s lives. Families would accumulate knowledge and wealth and land and titles and connections, and they would pass it down to their children. The children would continue to grow that legacy, building onto the legacy of their parents.
That’s a beautiful thing. I want that. It makes so much sense to build on the knowledge of the people who came before us, rather than trying to start over in an effort of independence and individualism.
So now when I think of the legacy I want to leave, I don’t think about how (and how many) people will remember me. I think about the parts of my life that can continue to be built on after I’m gone. The parts that I can pass down to people that I love dearly, as well as people I’ve never met.
Discover the legacy you want to leave
We all know that nobody lays on their deathbed wishing that they’d acquired more possessions or spent more time at the office. So what matters? What is truly meaningful?
Julianne, Jeff, and I have spent a lot of time talking about this “meaningful work” that we build nations around. Meaning is a very personal thing. It’s not something you can discover by consensus. You have to discover what means the most to you, and then build your life and your work around those things.
For me, it’s helpful to limit myself to three things. Those things are:
- My relationships. My family is an amazing organism…I can’t believe I get to go through life with them. This is one of the reasons I agreed to build The Light Room with Treacy Mize. Because I believe that life is about relationships. I believe it starts with my relationship with myself, and then goes out from there. If we can fix relationships, then we can fix everything.
But I’m not only concerned about family relationships. I’m concerned about my relationship with people I’ve never even met. I’m concerned about my relationship with people who believe very differently than I do, who have had a completely different background than I have. I want to use my natural empathy to be able to connect with people who will share a very different view of the world with me.
- My faith. I only put this after my relationships, because I believe people are where the heart of God lives. I believe faith has the power to heal our lives, but it’s not about convincing people that their faith is “good” or “bad” for believing or not believing in what I’ve found to be true. As C.S. Lewis said, “What is there moral or immoral about believing or not believing a set of statements? Obviously…a sane man accepts or rejects any statement, not because he wants to or does not want to, but because the evidence seems to him good or bad.” An important part of my legacy is exploring my own faith, shedding light on the evidence I’ve found, and giving room and a context for other people to explore theirs.
- My passions. My passions are things that have changed the quality of my life because of their presence in it. Reading is one. I’ve said that if heaven is not one giant library, I’m going to be severely disappointed. Art is another. I am amazed at how even the smallest effort at making something ordinary into art changes the direction of my day. And when that art is directed as a gift to someone else, that change is magnified. Enthusiasm. Nature. Learning. Writing. These are all things that get me excited about being alive.
What three things are important enough to you to leave a legacy that others can build on?
Create your legacy today, not sometime in the future
Legacy doesn’t happen by accident. You have to understand the things that are truly important so you can change your daily routine to match the kind of legacy you want to leave.
One of the exercises we do on the Tour de Bliss is to ask ourselves, “Would I want to be doing this every day for the rest of my life?” If the answer is “yes”, we do it with gusto. If the answer is “no”, we find a way to stop doing it.
Life is a series of patterns. Your legacy is a result of those patterns repeated over time. If you don’t want to be doing something for the rest of your life, don’t do it today.
Legacy is not something you can plan out, step by step. Trying to “get there” is a futile exercise. You can no more plan your legacy than you can know what the state of your bank account will be on October 18th, 2027.
But you can live your legacy today. You can choose to stop acting in ways you wouldn’t want to act tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. And you can choose to replace them with things you can imagine yourself doing when you’ve reached the summit of your life experience. (Which, hopefully, will include lots of toast and kitchen dance-a-thons.)