Legacy: How to Live in a Way that Counts for Something

Do you have a fear of being forgotten after you’ve cashed in your chips at the casino table of life?

Research reveals that many adults report a fear of obliteration. This comes as no surprise; in about 100 years (or waaay less) for most of us, it’s realistic to surmise that no one will ever know we existed.

To offset this supremely dispiriting notion, many of us are inclined to leave legacies that let us (delusionally) live beyond the boundaries of our lifespans—creating reassuring symbols of immortality, like…

  • “Having kids means their kids and their kids will remember me and my carrot cake recipe with fondness.”
  • “If my name is on the north wing of the Shelter for Wayward Cats, my contribution will live on forever.”
  • “Having this bronze statue made in my likeness means I’ll stand the test of time.”
  • “If I win this gold medal/ Guinness World Record/ bowling trophy, my name will go down in the record books.”
  • “Writing this series about seahorse mating techniques means my voice will echo for generations of marine biologists to come.”
  • “If I write a book, maybe someone in 2076 will read it? Even though my cremation dust will be blowing in the wind, I’ll sort of be like I’m still around?”

Irrational? Sure. Effective? We do what we can in the face of existential despair.

I lead a program a few times a year called “What is Your Leadership Legacy,” and it’s as inspiring as it is eye-opening to see perfectly capable and successful leaders go from a blank page in the morning to a “game plan for beyond” by the end of the day. We don’t think much of our legacy in an average day, do we?

A quick definition of Legacy…

Legacy definitionLegacy is defined as the transmission of personal values. It reflects our universal desire as homo sapiens to pass on a meaningful part of ourselves, to “create and curate an enduring post-mortem reputation.” (Ugh; I was kind of looking forward to not giving a shit about what people think of me when I’m dead—does this mean I need “reputation management” after I’ve gone onto greener pastures, too?)
One of my entrepreneurial client’s interest had dwindled in running her retail business, yet she felt pressure to keep it running so she could eventually leave it behind for her kids. “What else will they have to remember me by? I’m hardly home, running all these locations. I don’t want all this to have been in vain.” Imagine her delight when she learned the definition of legacy also included the “donation” of personal values, ethics, and character? This woman made a list of ten positive things she thought her kids might remember about her, and realized she had more “assets” to pass down than a thriving business. Within three months she hired a consultant to help her transition out of the role that was siphoning off her aliveness.

What do you want to leave behind?

  • Your vintage stamp collection?
  • Your beliefs and values?
  • Your stacks of dough?
  • Your needlepoint pillows?
  • Your jokes and aphorisms?
  • Your pearls of wisdom?
  • Your way of being that will create ripple effects for others?
  • Your strategic plan that’ll set the team up for success for years to come?
  • Your sperm? (In a sperm bank, not just littered around town.)
  • Nothing? (And that’s perfectly okay.)

It’s worth it to get clear now about how you’d like to pass the essence of yourself on; there isn’t a lot of time to course-correct your character/ start mentoring others/ paint that mural/ give a portion of your estate to the Audubon Society… when you’re horizontal in hospice care. The Grim Reaper loves it when we fret near the end about how there’ll be nothing to show for our 4,000ish Mondays of traipsing the earth, apart from a few fading footprints.

A few legacy reflection questions…

  • Legacy NotesIf I died today, here is how people would likely describe me behind my back…
  • Here is how I would ideally want to be described (2 – 5 characteristics)…
  • Here is how I don’t want to be remembered…
  • Here is how I can demonstrate/ bring to life the characteristics I want to be remembered by…
  • Here is what I have learned in my role/ career/ life that I’m most inspired to pass on…
  • Here is how I think I might pass those learnings on…
  • Here is what I still want to accomplish, that will add to my legacy…

As Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine said, “our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.” Now go make intentional ripples that last, at least a few years after you’re dead and buried.

Jodi Wellman

P.S.: Check out my legacy! You can now preorder my upcoming book, You Only Die Once: How to Make It to the End with No Regrets and I’ll symbolically live on forever!

P.P.S.: Let’s do Instagram together.

P.P.P.S.: Oh and just in case you missed it… I’d love you forever if you took 16 minutes out of your life to watch my TEDx talk!


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