Legacy. It’s a word that’s been dancing in my mind for months. As it danced, so it felt increasingly important. Increasingly relevant. Increasingly urgent.
And, as legacy danced, so I found myself wondering – and not in any way morbidly or pessimistically – if I were to die today, what would my life amount to? What would be left changed in a positive way because I had lived? What would be left changed negatively? Who would I have inspired? Who would I have crushed? And, would my vision live on, or die with me?
“A thing handed on by or left unfinished by a predecessor or previous owner” is how the dictionary defines legacy. But that definition barely scratches the surface. Legacy is so much more than unfinished business. It is the thing that differentiates between life and existence. It is the thing that is born in the past, to be lived out in the future. It is, when all is said and done, the essence of humanity.
What would I leave unfinished? Plenty. But, what amongst all of that would be worth anything? Really worth anything? What would last? What would stand the test of time?
Honestly? I could not answer that question. And that frightened me.
If my life amounted to nothing of substance, then what would have been the point of the years of struggle, of digging deep, of standing firm in the face of adversity, of pursuing a vision at all costs – costs that had often brought me to my knees?
A heaviness descended. All of this could not be for nothing; but if I died right there, right then, I feared it might just prove to be that way.
As the thoughts swirled and the dance continued in my mind, the importance, relevance, and urgency of that one, much used, much thrown around, word gripped me. I had no plans to breath my last, but I needed to be sure, no matter what, that the time that I had breath in my body amounted to something, counted for something – had created unfinished business that others would pick up and carry forward.
And so it was that ‘legacy’ became the first of three words that will guide me through 2022.
The more I thought about legacy, what it meant to me, and what mine would be, the more I found my thoughts pulled into an image that had encapsulated my vision ever since it burst forth in my mind, back in January 2000. An image of ripples expanding across the surface of a body of water. An image that began to take on new meaning as I viewed it through the lenses of legacy.
Back then – back when my vision first burst onto the scene – those ripples were all about influence and impact – about inspiring change, disrupting the status-quo, and igniting a generation to live the life it was made for. And, as I thought about what that image had spoken to me over the years, I realised that the entirety of its message had been above the surface. It was about what was visible. Its focus was the effect, with no thought given to the cause.
And it hit me. The legacy my life was meant to leave was not about influence, impact, change, or a disrupted status-quo. It wasn’t even about a generation living the life it was made for (which was the vision that had exploded inside me 22 years ago, and driven me ever since). It was much smaller than all of those things. Much less visible. Much less significant.
In fact, while all of those things – each so integral to my vision – were above the surface, my legacy lay far beneath it. I realised that the legacy I am called to leave was not about effect, it was about cause. Mine would be a legacy of facilitation – of being a catalyst, an initiator; a starter, rather than a finisher. Behind the scenes, rather than centre-stage, if you like. And that sat well with me.
I recalled how, at school, I had enjoyed my time on the stage, in the limelight, receiving the applause, acting out parts in plays; but I had enjoyed even more my time stage managing productions – in the background, out of sight, quietly making it so that others could take the acclaim. I recalled how I enjoy speaking to audiences myself, but how I enjoy creating the parts – the presentations, videos and technology – that enable other people to take the platform, and share their message, even more.
Slowly, I came to appreciate that a legacy that, in itself, was hidden from view, but that had an effect that was visible to all, was exactly how I had been living my life when I was at my happiest. I was not called to be the one who did the thing to take the glory, I was called to be the one who would help to make that thing possible. I was not called to be the ripples that inspired the change and disrupted the status-quo – I was simply called to be the pebble that broke the surface of the water and set those ripples in motion.
And, to be that pebble fascinated me. What would it mean to be something so small, so insignificant – something that makes a split-second impact before sinking beneath the surface to nestle on the floor below, indistinguishable amongst all the other pebbles – and yet, at the very same time, to be something that creates an effect that changes forever the surface it broke through?
I could be that. I wanted to be that.
The truth is, you see, I’ve always known that ‘a generation living the life it was made for’ is a vision I will never see realised. It’s too big. It’s never-ending, in fact. But what if my legacy wasn’t meant to be to realise that unrealisable vision, but to break the surface and send out ripples? Ripples that would inspire others to break the surface where they are, and send out ripples of their own?
What if the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written in tools, resources, and courses, were hundreds of thousands of pebbles – hundreds of thousands of tiny, momentary points of impact that broke through the surface and, as they sank to the floor, to rest with the other pebbles, sent out ripples that changed that surface forever?
I knew that, if I could do that, then my life will have been about something. Those years of sacrifice and heartache, as well as the years of abundance and joy, will have been worth it.
Would there be fanfares and gushing eulogies when I breathed my last? Statues and newspaper articles? Of course not. But that’s not what legacy is about. Yes, some people do things in their life that leave behind a legacy that warrants such acclaim, but most of us will not. And that is just fine. It is how it should be.
And, when I do finally breathe my last, will my gravestone be inscribed with “He changed the world”? Will it say “He inspired a generation to live the life it was made for”? No. Of course it won’t. But, if I do to the best of my ability that which I am able, it may just read “He sent out ripples”. And, if that is how it reads, then my life will have been worth something.
So, when you think of your life, and the legacy you will leave behind, don’t seek to create palaces that are worthy of fanfares and more. You may end up doing that, but don’t set out with that intention in mind. Rather, seek to do to the best of your ability that which you are able; and, in so doing, to inspire others to do the same.
You may not be the one who takes the glory. You may not even get any recognition of any kind. But the ripples you send out will establish a legacy that endures into eternity. And that, my friend, is a legacy worth leaving, from a life well-lived.