Sources of Legacy

Published on Dec 20, 2019

It’s not about planting your flag pole

Legacy is a word that invokes connotations of rich, white guys stamping their name on a hospital wings or seeking power and wealth so they can end up in the history books.

To me, this is not what defines legacy.

Legacy isn’t about planting your flag pole, so to speak. It’s also not about being remembered, or not being forgotten.

The simple truth is that no matter how hard you try, how much money you accumulate, or how powerful you become, you’re name will be forgotten. We live on a planet that’s a dust of sand in the universe at a tiny blip in time.

Your name means nothing, and that’s ok, because there’s something much larger at stake…

I define legacy as the everlasting effect you leave on the world.

It’s not about your name or you individually at all. It’s about the actions you take that will reverberate and expand through time. In many ways, legacy is a network of butterfly effects.

Can funding a hospital wing accomplish this? Of course. Patients who’re treated there may go on to have other important roles in the world, who will have kids that do the same, and so on.

The problem isn’t the action, it’s the intention behind the action.

What are the sources of legacy?

I’ve written down the most important sources of legacy. I’m sure this isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a start:

  1. Having kids who have a positive impact on the world, go on to have kids of their own who do the same, and so on.
  2. Creating a political movement–women’s rights, racial equality, religious equality, new nations, humanitarian, climate change could be the next one, etc
  3. Creating something cultural–book (Charles Dickens, JK Rowling), music (The Beatles, Micheal Jackson), etc.
  4. Contributing to the collective human knowledge and understanding (Einstein, Newton, etc.)
  5. Buying land, restoring it to natural, and putting it in a trust that can protect it from humans for as long as modern civilization exists

There’s still a problem, though. Some of the items listed above are really only “everlasting” as long as the human race exists?

I get this viewpoint, but would argue that even if humans go extinct, the effects of influencing large numbers of people could possibly far outlive homo sapiens.

Influence is an excellent way to build a legacy, and I think #2, #3, and #4 all fit into this mold.

We can all have a piece of it

Influence doesn’t have to be large. Not everyone is destined to become the next Newton, Rowling, or MLK. And that’s OK.

Everyone has influence on other people on a daily basis. It’s in the way you communicate, love, interact, work, etc. Every decision you make has an effect on someone else, which influences subsequent decisions they make, which has an effect on people in their lives, and so on.

In fact, everyone has a legacy whether they like it or not. Some legacies are more positive than negative, others more negative than positive.

When you frame legacy in this way, it’s both a relief and a burden. You don’t need to end up rich or powerful to have an everlasting legacy—it’s something everyone has by default. But at the same time, there’s no easy exit plan. You can’t be an ass your entire life, and then fund a hospital and make that your legacy.

You build your legacy every day. Take it seriously.

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