Have you ever thought about how you’ll be remembered? It’s a fact of life that we’ll all die someday, though we avoid those thoughts as best we can. Yet, in those rare times that we allow concerns about our life and death to creep in, most (if not all) of us would say we want to leave a positive legacy.
Legacy – anything handed down from the past; living beyond our life on this earth, often in the hearts and minds of people we love or who love us.
What do you want that legacy to look like? What do others need most from you, and what can you leave them that will last beyond your lifetime? Which of your many gifts might live on in others?
Top 5 Regrets of People When They’re Dying
A widely republished article from 2013 in Collective Evolution explains the five regrets most often reported by people who were dying. The list was compiled by a palliative care nurse who works with individuals who have serious, chronic and/or terminal illnesses. The top five in the list of regrets included – being true to self, working too much, not staying connected with people, not seeking and finding happiness, and not being honest in expressing feelings.
That list would surprise few of us. Many of us already live with these regrets in our day to day lives. Yet, we continue to wait until it’s too late. We worry about leaving our comfortably numb lives of television and social media in favor of a sometimes uncertain and regret-free existence.
The reason for this is, at least in part, our optimism bias. In short, this means that we optimistically (and incorrectly) believe we have time, and lots of it. As a result, we don’t feel a sense of urgency to act before our inaction leads to regret.
If you’d like to know more about our optimism bias, watch this video of researcher and director of Affective Brain Lab, Tali Sharot, on the topic:
Write Your Own Obituary
There are many ways to combat this tendency to remain in the stagnant waters of status quo. I am only proposing one today. We can begin with the end in mind by writing our own obituaries.
It’s not as morbid as it sounds.
Rather, it’s a process of intentionally thinking through your hoped-for legacy. What you would like others to see in you. What you would like to have accomplished. What you want to leave behind. What will be meaningful to you and those who love you over the long term – not just tomorrow or the next month. This process helps you focus on the big picture of your life – the expanse of years.
Play out your own possible regrets, now while you have the chance to change them.
Remember the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future? You’ve seen your past, and you’re living your present. If you’re really honest with yourself, where do you think the choices you’ve made and are making will lead you? If you like how your future looks, more power to you. Keep it up! However, if you’re like a lot of others, you’re not in love with the days and years you see stretching out before you.
Really Start Living
Write your someday obituary today. Put the words to paper that you most wish to see published about you when the time comes. From this unique vantage point, you can begin to lay out a road map to how you can change your current reality to achieve a completely altered end.
It doesn’t matter if you want to be viewed as a free spirit, an entrepreneur, a talented artist, a generous soul, a traveler, a teacher, a learner, an environmentalist, several of these, all of these, or something completely different. Whatever your goal may be, its nobility burns in the passion you bring to it. We each have an opportunity with the time we have left (no matter how much time that is) to build the legacy we want to leave behind.
Our Time Is Short
At whatever age, we make the overly optimistic mistake of believing we have time. It could all end tomorrow; we simply don’t believe that it will.
In this unquestioned belief in the open-endedness of life, we procrastinate. We choose carelessly. We flip through the channels on our televisions and waste energy worrying about unimportant issues and spend our time on stuff rather than experiences or activities that fulfill us. What a terrible waste of a beautiful life! What a terrible waste of potential! What a sad legacy to have handed over our joy to meaningless pursuits!
It’s not about adding more. It’s about adding more intention.
Can you look at yourself in the mirror and really say that you want your legacy to be that you’ve seen every episode of 19 Kids and Counting? Twice? Do you want your children to learn by your example to put your dreams on hold indefinitely? Do you long to be known as the person who closed him or herself off from the world?
I doubt it.
I believe you want to live boldly. I believe you want to dive into pools of pure joy. I believe you crave adventures and connection and action. I believe you have a creative core waiting to be released. I believe the example you want to set for your children (or friends or neighbors or co-workers) is one of generosity of spirit, kindness, and confidence.
The form these take will be up to you; we each wear these traits beautifully, uniquely.
Write down the words that spell out your desired legacy now. Live them today and every day. Set goals that feed the tiny spark of your deep-down belly fire. Slash away the jungle of meaningless pursuits and clear a path for your passions. Build the freeing momentum of a child riding a bike down a smooth slope. Feel the wind in your hair and let nothing stop you. Not even death, because that is the legacy that will live on.
What will be your legacy?
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like:
- 101 Things Life Is Too Short Not to Do
- 280 Day Challenge: Your Goal Is Your Baby
- Re-write Your Story: Make it a Page Turner
- The Joy Is in the Journey: My Experience of Living my Dreams (So Far)