The word “Legacy” means many things to many people. If I look it up on my computer, it tells me that a legacy is “an amount of money or property left to someone in a will.” Merriam-Webster says it’s “a gift by will especially of money or other personal property” or “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.” I think the first two definitions equate to “inheritance”. The last may get closer to what I’d like to think of.
To me, “Legacy” tells a tale. It tells a story. Even if it’s money or property, a legacy itself has more of a “how” component. Any number of people can inherit or accumulate wealth over the span of their lives. Did you build a publishing empire or a railroad? Did you buy a lottery ticket and have the numbers on your fortune cookie pan out just right? Even if the bank balance is the same thing your child receives, what’s the story behind it and what did you do in context? To me, that’s getting closer to what a legacy is.
It falls short though. Does that mean somebody who has absolutely terrible luck in the stock market or dies at an early age has nothing to leave behind? Why does it have to be money or property at all? My father and mother have done well for themselves and my brother and I get to benefit from what they’ve done, learned, and experienced during the course of their lives. To me, though their legacies have far more weight than their bank accounts and personal property. What they really pass on are lessons on how to live life. Some of this they’ve taught overtly (see the links above) and some of it has been my own observations. I feel the same way about my wife’s parents. I truly hope my children will feel the same about me. I certainly have memories of my grandparents and what they meant to me.
Anyone – no, everyone – leaves a legacy behind. We do it constantly and without even thinking about it in most cases. We don’t even need to die in order to leave our legacy. We may move, change jobs, or even migrate from one group of friends to another over time. At some point, somebody we’ve touched will find an occasion which spurs a memory or thought of us. Then, like the smell of something roasting in an oven, triggered memories will come flooding back.
What we do daily has constant influence on how others will think of us in passing. Our legacy follows us like a shadow. We don’t need to be constantly aware of it, but we should take time to reflect on this. There can come times in our lives when we look at the legacies we are building and decide whether we like them or not. Whether others’ memories of us reflect who we want to be.
At some point there can get to be a gap, a gulf, or a even a chasm between how people we care about will remember us compared to what we’d like. If you ever want to tackle a mid-life crisis, look in the mirror and consider how others think about you. Inheritance and legacy aren’t the same thing. Build a legacy worthy of the word.