Determine Your Legacy

Many of us want to have a legacy. In fact, I’ve even worked with youth for years at both boarding schools and residential treatment centers who want to. I’ve heard students say with declaration and a sincere desire that they want to leave a legacy after they leave or graduate from the school or facility.

Erik Erikson, a famous developmental psychologist, explained in one of his psychosocial developmental stages about the natural drive to leave a legacy—being generative and not stagnate. This desire is rooted in caring for the next generation and being remembered in a significant way. Let me ask you this…

How do you want to remember yourself years down the road?

How do you want to be remembered by your family?

How do you want to be remembered by your children?

How do you want to be remembered by your community?

I think these are important questions to keep in the front of your mind. In so doing, you can then be intentional with the legacy you create. By being intentional and beginning with an end in mind, you can make the imperative decisions of what to say yes to and what to say no to in creating your legacy or vision.

Former Dean of the Harvard College of Business, Dr. Kim B. Clark, spends an hour a day writing a book. It’s not a book to be published for the world to see, or to gain more publishing notoriety for Harvard. (Although he did do that type of writing too.) This book is for his children and grandchildren! As he reads from the Bible and other Scriptures he writes his thoughts and commentary on the written works; now that’s intentionally building a legacy! Here is a man that worked for one of the most prestigious business colleges in the world, where the demands of publishing are really high to keep his employment, and he spent the little free time he did have to write a book about something very special to him.

On the other hand, John Maynard Keynes, the father of Keynesian economics, seemed to have left a different type of legacy. His economic policies addressed issues with only a here-and-now mentality. Only leaving a mirage of “help,” avoiding the deeper issues, not making the necessary adjustments for long term economic success. In fact, his policies and ideals make economic issues a great problem for future generations to fix. Simply passing the buck on to the next generation leaving the burden of debt and economic hardship on later generations. When questioned about the shortcomings of Keynesian economics he replied “In the long run, we are all dead.” With his response I have often wondered what Keynes’ relationship was with his kids, if he had any, or with is parents. Maybe they were all just fine, but that is a pretty lousy legacy to leave on the next generation.

One night my wife asked me a poignant question. Her question made me search internally and really think. The question went something like this “What do you want our kids to remember about us years down the road?” I honestly never thought about that before. I did not know how to answer her. At that time I was not intentional with that area in my life, and did not know the answer to her question. The answer did not come until some weeks later while I was at church.

To whom I intentionally build my legacy. For whom are you building your legacy?

To whom I intentionally build my legacy. For whom are you building your legacy?

I remembered some research I had read years back on resiliency. (The personal quality to go through hardships, recover quickly virtually and/or seemly unscathed and climb onto the prosperous course of success.) It talked about children who were resilient as oppose to others that allowed difficulties to hedge up their way, become bitter, and stagnate. Seeming to alter their course due to hardships or trauma, and begin going down the path in life that is less effective, depressive, and a destructive course.

Well, the resiliency research is interesting and informative, but the points I reflected on were how one develops this quality, why others do not, and what predicts resilient behaviors. One of the essential elements or ingredients of building resiliency in individuals is that they have at least one person (but more is better) that they look to up to—”the apple of their eye”, their mentor, someone they were securely attached to, a role model, etc. I determined in that moment, and made the intentional decision that I wanted to be one of those people in my children’s lives.

Maybe I would have aimlessly become that person in their lives, but if I strive for that relationship I will do a better job. That is why it is so important to determine now what legacy I want to leave for them and not later.

When I think of resiliency, I think of my good friend Quinton from graduate school. From hearing his life story he’s had it tough.  I mean the hard knock life. He did not have much financial resources. He was raised by his great grandparents. He never met his dad. But he does not let that stop him from achieving his dreams even though he had excuses in the world not to push through his trials. Still, he used football to go to college, and coaches others not to let football use them. He is a man of great courage going where no one in his family has ever gone before—finishing college, eventually getting his Masters degree and is working on his Ph.D. He attributes his success in overcoming great obstacles to his great friends, mentors, and God—the crux of resiliency in his relationships. I have to say I am proud of this man! Now I see pictures of him with the next generation on Facebook, helping them to overcome similar obstacles. This man has drunk out of the bitter cup but did not become bitter. He is passing that gift to the next generation. Today, determine your legacy intentionally. Leave the world a better place than you found it!

Leave a comment and let me know what type of Legacy you are going to leave?


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