Having just spent a few years writing my book, Legacies of the Heart: Living a Life That Matters, I’m convinced that having a legacy perspective will enhance your second half of life, post-retirement years, Encore years or whatever else you want to call this time of
What do I mean by having a legacy perspective?
First, legacy is so much more than the dictionary definition of material property bequeathed, usually at death.
It is, in my view:
• as broad as the imprint of your life that lasts into the next generation and as specific as a single possession (for example, a family heirloom) willed to a survivor;
• as mighty as a religious or scientific paradigm shift or great artistic output and as mundane as a single family recipe passed down the generations;
• as public as an architectural monument and as private as a letter written to children or grandchildren;
• as tangible as a bank check and as intangible as a seemingly casual word of advice;
• as life-denying as the terrorists’ bombs at the 2013 Boston Marathon and as life sustaining as the many acts of heroism in response.
Second, with a legacy perspective, you understand that you are leaving legacies all the time, whether consciously or not, as you live your lives as a parent, grandparent and other family member, teacher, mentor, friend, colleague, worker, volunteer, neighbor, citizen, and creative individual. This is simply because who you are and what you say and do has an impact on others that often persists and ripples outward and forward in.
Finally, a legacy perspective means that you seek to be more aware, intentional,and heart-centered about the legacies you leave, so that you can answer now and in the affirmative the universal deathbed questions: 1) Have I given and received love? 2) Have I lived my life and not someone else’s? 3) Have I left the world a little better than I found
Why should you care about cultivating a legacy perspective?
- I believe––and there is good evidence, including those deathbed questions––that we humans are hard-wired to find and make meaning of our lives, to make a positive difference, and to hope that some evidence that we existed and mattered continues.
- A “developmental urge” (in the words of the late Dr. Gene Cohen) to find meaning, sum up our lives, and leave legacies intensifies as we pass mid-life and our mortality becomes harder to deny. We understand that we acquire a certain kind of immortality through what we leave behind––memories, stories, artifacts, and influences preserving, for at least a few generations, something of who we were and what we stood for.
- You’ll make better life choices, especially if you use as a compass the principle of “legacies of the heart”––living and choosing from your wisest, most authentic, generous, and loving self, rather than the fear-based negative ego that seeks to control, dominate, and exclude.
- Your loved ones will appreciate having tangible evidence of your “internal wealth”––your values, beliefs, wisdom gained from life experience, family stories, and cherished material objects you inherited or created.
- You’ll connect who you are and what you do and create with what matters most to you, according to your heart-centered values, and thus strengthen your sense of purpose and meaning.
- By strengthening your purpose, you will increase your sense of well-being and your physical health and longevity. (Scientific studies support this.) In doing legacy work, you can also begin to heal old hurts and forgive others as well as yourself. Forgiveness, like purpose, correlates with well-being, health, and longevity.
- Both aging and a legacy lens tend to broaden and lengthen perspective. As a “conscious elder,” you would see a larger picture, for example, you view yourself as one link in a long chain of ancestors and future generations and as a node in a web of interconnected people (and other species) around the globe. Therefore, you are more likely to act as steward of prized cultural traditions and of our earth home for the sake of future generations––a necessary and good thing in my view.
May your legacy perspective bring you unexpected treasures!