Your legacy can start today

Blogger Jeff Goins may be in his 40s, but he had an epiphany common to many seasoned citizens when a good friend of his recently died.

Jeff’s friend made a very wise statement upon learning of a cancer diagnosis that would claim his life within a month. His 70-year-old friend said, “I don’t need my name on a building or a foundation. You are my legacy.”

I wonder how many seasoned citizens realize that legacy is not so much about their accomplishments in life and the money they made or even donated; rather their legacy can be found in the time they devoted into developing people closest to them.

“Most of us get legacy wrong. We think it’s about stuff: material wealth, physical assets, pieces of property. But rarely, if ever, do we think about words,” Jeff wrote in his blog at Substack. “The truth, though, is that for most of us, what we say — or fail to say — will outlive just about everything else we do in this life. And we often don’t even consider it.”

Jeff had another eye-opening experience a short while ago when he became lost while hiking in the woods. He had to spend the night in the woods wondering whether he’d ever make it out. However, as morning approached, he stumbled upon a road where he was picked up and returned to civilization.

“When I returned to civilization, everything felt different. Richer. Clearer. The contrast in my life had been turned,” he wrote. “It all felt utterly important and at the same time not so serious. Many of my recent concerns and troubles did not weigh so heavily anymore.”

Death does that, but so does just about any other calamity in life. It could be a sudden, serious illness, or it could be the unexpected loss of a job years before you were planning to retire.

In his column, Jeff wondered what it would be like for him as he made his way through middle age, an experience all of us at Forward From 50 are intimately familiar with. Many of us are still struggling with our legacy even in our 60s, 70s and beyond.

Like Jeff, we wonder how much time we have left on this side of eternity. We wonder about what still needs to be done, and all those desirous things for which we are losing energy to pursue.

Jeff’s epiphany about his legacy stirred some very raw emotions, for which the rest of us would be well advised to consider as well.

“Had I told all my friends what they meant to me? Was I as kind as I could have been? Did I say everything that needed to be said to everyone who needed to hear it?” Jeff asked.

“I thought about the stories I wanted to tell, the bits of wisdom I still hoped to share. It got me writing more. Eagerly. Intentionally. Aggressively,” he added.

How many of us have put off to tomorrow things we know should be done today?

I recently heard an excellent definition of procrastination, which is the arrogant belief that God owes us another day to accomplish what he told us to do today. Ouch!!

For two years, I have had a sign staring at me on my desk, above my computer. It says, “Write like you’re running out of time — because you are!”

Still, here I am, two years later with a boatload of topics to write about and very, very, very few of them even started.

Yet, Jeff was correct in noting not much of what we accumulate will remain after our bodies go. Our words may remain, if we are lucky, but only for a generation or two. After all, how much time do you spend reading the wisdom accumulated by people who lived 100 years ago or longer?

Relationships are different. The impact we have on someone today can ripple through to eternity by altering the trajectory of that person’s life.

“One might argue that actions speak louder than language. But I disagree. A kind word, harsh critique, a loving admonition — these things can endure for decades, if not generations,” Jeff wrote. “They can leave a lasting impression long after a gesture or action does. Words have the ability to transcend our experiences, to become something more than the daily monotony of living.”

I could not agree more. Why is it that I can still remember kind words spoken to me by my teachers when I was in third and seventh grade. But, I can vividly remember the taunting words from other students and adults from that far back, too? It is absolutely true that people will remember you most because of how you made them feel.

Which brings us full circle back to legacy. How will you be remembered after you’re gone?

While we will most certainly be remembered for things we said and did over the course of our lifetime, it is a fact that people will more vividly remember the last things we said and did. Here’s where you have some control of your legacy.

  • If you need to apologize for something, then apologize.
  • If you need to make restitution for a loss, then make things right while you still have time.
  • If you want to convey an important though, essential lesson, fond memory or life-changing experience, do it today.

Hebrews 3:13 says, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

In other words, speak now before your legacy hardens in the minds of people who know and love.

Jeff eloquently noted that most of us die with some song still stuck inside us. And that is a tragedy.

“My friend did not leave this world with much left unsaid. He spoke his truth. He wrote it down, living life to the full for every moment he had,” Jeff added.

EVERYONE has a story to tell — a lifetime of memories and experiences which altered their trajectories and made them who they are. Almost everyone has also pledged to compile those thoughts in some form so they can be passed on to others in a way to benefit their lives.

Unfortunately, many people take their stories to the grave where they benefit nobody.

So, stay tuned. Forward From 50 is about to launch a new service to help people preserve their legacy stories. We’ll do it in three ways:

  • A do-it-yourself course complete with hundreds of starter questions to capture the things that mattered most to your life.
  • A do-it-with-you program to capture those memories in raw form, but allow an experienced writer to polish them up.
  • A done-for-you program where an experienced journalist can help draw out those stories, and preserve them in audio, video or written form.

Capturing other people’s stories may be the most important legacy of my life. What is your legacy, or your story?