Your Legacy = Choosing To Act On What Matters To You

There are a beautiful poem and web movie that capture the essence of what Creating Legacy is all about. I've reprinted it below, with all attribution and gratitude to its author Michael Josephson. The poem and movie themselves are examples of what I would call "participation only" legacy projects – tangible, beneficial and lasting – though very simple and simply executed.

Those legacy projects support the bigger one – representing Josephson's other legacy project. The Josephson Institute is devoted to teaching ethics, a subject near and dear to my heart, too.  It is a project of the combination "participation + financial" variety.  It is organized as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization so it can offer a tax deduction to people who contribute in-cash or in-kind to its mission. And it has developed products in keeping with its mission that generate revenue, as well. A stunning example of legacy development and delivery from the very grass roots to organizational level execution!

What Will Matter©
By author: Michael Josephson
Link to the movie version: (watch it – it's beautiful!)

Ready or not, some day it will all come to an end.
There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days.
All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else.
Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.
It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.
Your grudges, resentments, frustrations and jealousies will finally disappear.
So too, your hopes, ambitions, plans and to-do lists will expire.
The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.
It won't matter where you came from or what side of the tracks you lived on at the end.
It won't matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant.
Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant.

So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?

What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built; not what you got, but what you gave.
What will matter is not your success, but your significance.
What will matter is not what you learned, but what you taught.
What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice
that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.

What will matter is not your competence, but your character.
What will matter is not how many people you knew, but how many will feel a lasting loss when you're gone.
What will matter is not your memories, but the memories that live in those who loved you.
What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.

Living a life that matters doesn't happen by accident.
It's not a matter of circumstance but of choice.
Choose to live a life that matters.

©2011 Josephson Institute. Reprinted with permission.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Legacy of Words

Today, June 14, is Flag Day – and ironically it also is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Harriet Beecher Stowe.

I love the story of her life and the legacy of words she wrote in a small novel that became a worldwide phenomenon. Not something a woman living in the early 1800’s might ever expect.  But then it’s not something many people living in this day and age expect they’re capable of either.  (And yes, you are!)

That book was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”  It was not the first or the only book she wrote. But writing, and getting clear on the message that was important to her to impart, was the means to creating her legacy. She may be remembered as the woman President Abraham Lincoln called “the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war” which of course could never be true, and it might have been some notoriety at the time.  It was the work itself, however, that became her lasting legacy.  For a fascinating conversation about the book, her life and all that history, catch the podcast of Diane Rehm’s inteview with David Reynolds who has now written a book all about it called “Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America” (W.W. Norton & Company, 2011). At that link, you can also read an except from his book.

What I love about Harriet’s legacy though, is how it provides an example of what can happen when someone decides to take a small action on something they are passionate about.  Harriet was one of 10 children raised by her father and step-mother, since her own mother died when she was five.  The family held social reform as a high concern and after her move from Connecticut to Cincinnati, Ohio, Harriet became passionate about the plight of the African-American slaves in the south.  She knew of them from their family members who worked for the family.  The split in views about the treatment of these people – who were still being treated like property – between northerners and southerners, became a story line that told of truths not many people wanted to speak about.

Harriet is described as a small and dreamy woman – nothing like a media powerhouse or celebrity of today. From her deepest convictions, however, she told a story that captured hearts and minds, and now people are even writing about her history.

Do you have a story filled with powerful observations or simply a good idea to share with the world? Do you need support to make it happen? 

Like Harriet’s story, yours may just well make history – or at least a positive difference in the lives of other people – which is history enough.  There are many ways to bring that story to the world – books, workshops, tangible goods, programs or services, and many other forms. It would be great to see your legacy come to life in a similar way. 

If you’re ready to start, it’s something we can help you develop.  It would be a joy to help nuture your project into fruition!

Cheers, Dolly

Are We Entering An Era of Caring?

I sure hope so.

This morning on the other side of the world, once again, the Ring of Fire snapped many people out of their alpha state thinking mode of going through their everyday motions, with big news.  The earth errupted 80 miles off the coast of Sendai in northeast Japan with an 8.9 earthquake was followed by aftershocks measuring 7.1, 6.5, and 6.4 in magnitude.  The tremor was felt in Tokyo, and generated tsunami waves up to 3 miles inland on the island of Japan.  Three miles.  Imagine that distance from where you sit right now (and then imagine the wave itself …)  The quake prompted tsunami warnings for much of the Pacific Rim, which in our part of the world includes Hawaii and the west coast of the U.S. and Canada, where evacuations resulted.

A Bloomberg television reporter covering the story said the wave that washed up on shore “was mixed with mud, with ships and cars smashing toward wooden houses, dragging those into rice fields, and basically bashing them into pieces.”  The quake was not as destructive as the 9.3-magnitude earthquake that shook Indonesia – the second-largest in recorded history in December of 2004, the tsunami from which killed more than 300,000 people in over a dozen countries – but you get the picture.

In the world of cause and effect, I don’t believe the Earth is trying to send a message of unification – we’re all in this together, as Marshall McLuhan has said “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We’re all crew.”

But I sure hope that is the result.

Modern technology has created an amazing transparency that gives us the opportunity to really experience the truth of that perspective  – toppling dictatorships in the Middle East and disasters thousands of miles away that can and do reach our shores, not just the one’s that happen on (New Orleans and Katrina) or near (Haiti) them – do affect us all in one way or another.

That technology allows us to see and learn about things that were once only in the hands of a privileged few, who we trusted to govern things until we learned that their control was more selfish and greedy than caring. It allows us to see – and experience – that we are not so far removed from the struggles of other humans who happen to speak different languages, wear different clothes and have different customs. And it allows us to take different actions to address these things.  As a nurse, I’d like to think that caring could be a really good underlying operating principle for humanity in taking those actions.

We all want the same basic things: to love and be loved, to be safe, to care for our families and friends, to be productive and feel accomplished, to be nourished and rest, and have our daily needs for healthy living addressed. Beyond that we want some time to share ourselves with others and pursue happiness through enjoyable activities and learning (which least often results from conspicuous consumption – just one of many forms of ineffective attempts to address whatever dis-ease might be troubling us).  There are plenty of those basics to go around, if only we care for one another and share ourselves.

Maybe disasters are a way of showing us that there are things to be afraid of, but that doesn’t include other human beings.  I don’t wish for more such challenges to pull us together.  I just wish that the lesson of ‘caring for others as we care for ourselves’ will take firm hold in the minds and hearts of everyone, and become a basic value and tenet of daily living.  I pray that with each such natural disaster (as there seem to be more and more of them) we really “get” this important lesson that results from our living planet’s communications.

Blessings to you all.

What Will The Monday Morning Armchair Quarterbacks Say About You?

Another trademarked big football game (I understand I’m not to use its actual “super” name without permission) has come and gone.  Don’t know much about that, but this new decade, starting with the turn to 2011, started off with a bang for me.  After a great year in 2010, a quiet holiday season and New Year celebration, with some planning for where we would take Creating Legacy going forward, things got right out of hand. Okay, well save for having someone run a stop sign and T-bone the passenger side of my car just before the holidays.  (Did you know it’s gunpowder that makes air bags go off – and before you know it, too? Saltpeter, the critical oxidizing component of gunpowder has a very distinctive smell and covers everything inside the car, including you … but that’s another story.)

Not in any particular order, because the order somewhat evades me now, just after the new year I got food poisoning and was out of commission with fluid and electrolyte imbalance (I won’t go into detail) for the better part of a week.  Brain cells, among others, don’t work all that well without the right balance of fluids and salts available in the watery soup that makes up close to 70% of our physical bodies.

Just as I was coming back from that, I experienced the unexpected earthly departures of two friends and incredible members of one of my home communities. As with everyone, they both left incredible legacies – with varying degrees of financial structure and personal involvement – which were recounted by folks attending their memorial services.

My first experience of death was of a best friend in grade school.  I bring this up not to tie legacy to that subject, as many people do, but to reiterate that everyone has a legacy.  Even she did, departing at such an early age.  Some of the spark of how she defined herself and lived her life – which I got to experience and benefit from – lives on with me even today. 

One of my two community friends, while an amazing artist who produced a great number of beautiful paintings, also left the same sort of legacy – a memory of the day to day experience of her presence and its solidly supportive countenance, something she was constant about giving no matter where she was involved.  No doubt that is what each owner of one of her paintings will remember most, even if later only the beauty of the artwork carries on.  Both are significant contributions.

My other friend and colleague, who made a great deal of money during career had already established a trust to return some of those funds to cared about causes in an ongoing fashion.  In a new period of financial independence, he was working at other important projects without regard to whether they produced any income.  And making an incredible difference with both efforts, absolutely loving his life.

Both left too soon, and fortunately, quite deliberately left significant marks that will carry on.

It is the choice to consciously build such a legacy, born of experience, career, and success (financial and otherwise), contributed actively during the prime of one’s life, that fascinates me.  Particularly because I know, no matter whom you are or what your resources are, that everyone has the capacity to make a much bigger impact than they probably think they can. 

People notice and will talk about it after you’re gone, but will it be what you really want them to say about what you were passionate about and how you got involved?  For how many generations will that acknowledgment continue – will your grand- or great- or great-great-grandchildren (if you have progeny) know you and what you contributed? Will the communities you’ve impacted know what it is you want them to know about your choice to impact what was important to you – and for how many generations from now?

Yesterday would have been President Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday. Yes, as an American President (a legacy building effort in itself) he was known worldwide, so we expect that people will talk about his political legacy on such occasions. It will be done, as usual, in that Monday morning armchair quarterbacking way, where different views will be aired.  A perfect example is a recent Miami Herald article which focused on a three way debate over his legacy on war, taxes and government.

But again, you don’t need to have been a sitting president with a large library of work to leave a legacy. Anyone can do their work and live their life with a sense of personal meaning, and consciously create activities that not only demonstrate what they care about, but from which they actually build something tangible – from an artifact to a charitable foundation, and many other forms in between.  It can, and will be something unique to them, the only real questions are whether they – you – will define it and participate in it, and how long-lasting the impact of that effort will be.

With the right mindset, information and actions, it’s quite possible for your personal legacy to be something you clearly define, concerning something you care about from the depths of your heart and soul, that brings you a great deal of joy and satisfaction to create, and that benefits many, many people for a very long time. 

You have that power.  How will you use it?

I’m excited about our comprehensive legacy planning program The 7 Steps To Creating Your Legacy that we’ll be rolling out in new forms in 2011.  It’s part of my legacy – and the mutual goal Eliza and I have set to help others create 100,000 legacies. It’s a big goal, so I’d better get back to work.  Please do be in contact if we can help you, or your clients, understand the full picture of what’s possible, and the steps to creating a legacy blueprint to make it happen.

Cheers, Dolly

Just How Stupid Are We?

New Zealand’s Lizzie Gillett had a dream to make a difference. Her efforts may just help save the planet, too. She had an idea to tell an important story – before it is too late .  As she tells it, she “stalked” the accomplished UK film maker/director Franny Armstrong in an effort to make it happen.  And became a film producer herself in the process.

Armstong was impressed and together the two have taken the world by storm producing an incredible film called The Age of Stupid – a visual journey into global climate change and a world humans have a hard time imagining if it’s not addressed. So the film show them what they have difficulty anticipating for their children and grandchildren.  It’s unnerving, troubling, significant … and important to see – in order to really “get” it. 

In the process, they’ve created an amazing legacy. Can’t wait to see what they each do next.  Wonderful women, wonderful work. Check out their story here:

New Zealand’s Close Up features The Age of Stupid from Age of Stupid on Vimeo.

Creating Memories From Joy

Here at Creating Legacy we know that great legacies are inspired, thoughtful, heart-filled, beneficial, touching and meaningful.  They tap into the powerful human attributes every one of us possesses – of being generous, wise and creative.  So we also know they are not limited to the rich and powerful (both relative terms anyway …), they are the province of anyone who chooses to create something that others will benefit from, and remember for having been bettered somehow.  Which is a very satisfying thing to do. Thus we know that great legacies are pursued mainly by those ready to create memories from joy.

And how they deliver those memories is through the development of powerful, positive, and beneficial results to the world through a design that makes them workable, systematic, and enduring.  That’s all the “how to” we cover in our 7 Steps To Creating Your Legacy program, after we help you get in touch with your passion, desire and vision for doing so.    

But why even go there?  Because there are benefits of a great legacy – for both giver and receiver.

GREAT LEGACIES ARE MEMORABLE.  A great legacy, or its impact, is remembered.  Certainly it is remembered by whoever benefits from the project or contribution. 

You may create significant impacts everyday just by virtue of consciously choosing who you want to be and how you want to you approach others or your work – you put in a little more effort than required, you leave something a little better than you found it, you choose to pay a particular kindness to someone even if just in passing.  It truly is a conscious mindset – instead of just stepping over the piece of glass on the path, you choose to pick it up so no one else will injure themselves. 

It is from this same legacy level way of being and doing that much larger legacies are built. They are an expression of your personal values.  People notice that sort of positive or constructive action, and they remember you for it – fondly. 

Actively choosing to create a project or enterprise that similarly impacts a chosen environment or community you care about will also be remembered in an even more significant way.  What you create may affect people immediately close to you, like actual or chosen family, or even members of distant global communities, depending on the type and scope of your legacy.  Some of them you may never actually know, but they will know of you, through your legacy … and kind contribution.  And because your impact is so memorable, others may want to participate or even replicate your efforts. 

No matter what, the process of building and watching your legacy grow is something that you will remember for sure – and be glad of.  Creating your legacy, contributing the benefits only you can while you can, will prevent that sense of regret later on of the things you could have done, but didn’t – like smelling more roses or eating more ice cream, but on a grander scale.

GREAT LEGACIES ARE JOYFUL.  Legacies consciously designed to create sustainable positive benefits encompass a true sense of delight both for you, and for those who benefit. For you, that may take the form of amusement in playing with the original idea, a sense of pride for the cheer or comfort delivered to others in the process, gratitude for seeing the end result play out and the impact your work has – or all three and many others.  For the recipients of your contribution, joy may be expressed through a sense of delight, great relief, or deep appreciation for the benefit or experience they may not have otherwise had. 

Developing a legacy project can provide a true sense of awe and wonder about how the process of creation works.  The experience of being a part of something that grows and morphs into a real contribution and that attracts the attention and involvement of others, can also provide a sense of real connection with the Divine or ‘oneness with the universe,’ however you define that.  During the process, people and resources just seem to show up, experiences just seem to happen effortlessly, and you may have other special experiences that seem to tap into the greater good. 

These are special brands of happiness and well-being that are profound elements of true joy – that you can choose to cultivate.  How would you like to be remembered, or for what? Look first for those things that bring you the most joy when you think about that as your contribution.  The pride you’ll feel for actually having done it – knowing it will live on an benefit folks who may never actually know you – will far outweigh anything fame has to offer.

The elements of great legacies can be grasped and mastered by anyone, and developed in your own unique way.  What are the sparks that inspire you – that stir inside you when you take the time to entertain them? What are your good ideas, the ones you consider sharing with others – but might be a bit shy to admit? 

Yes, those.  Right there.  The ones you might be reluctant about.  They seem like really are good ideas that mean something to you, and would mean something to others, but you may question your own ability to create them.  Well grab hold of your thoughts, and at least write them down somewhere to give them their first bit of “mass.” 

You’ll be on your way to making something from nothing – exercising that innate creative ability with which all
humans are endowed. 

Great legacies don’t happen overnight.  But once you get started, you might be surprised how, stepwise, you can systematically develop your good ideas, find needed support to nurture and grow them – and how they can turn into enduring, beneficial solutions that are both memorable and exceedingly satisfying to see working in the world. 

What are you waiting for, you creative being? 

Want to know more?

  • To learn more about legacy development from inception to completion and all the different ways to create one, check out our 7 Steps to Creating Your Legacy program and join us the next time we offer it!
  • Sign up for our Creating Legacy Kit and we’ll send you our complete 14 Elements of Great Legacies complimentary e-course – and you’ll get our twice monthly Legacy Journal and updates on upcoming programs and other offerings.

Height of Career? Time to Get Busy For Love …

Whether at the end of one successful career or in the middle of your third career, the reward is to really get busy with what you love – making the sort of contribution that working merely to create earned income doesn’t allow.  Making that sort of career transition isn’t always easy…

Giving away money is only one way to do it – but it’s not about the money.  It’s about the effort and expending it realizes something money can’t buy.  It’s an experience available to all successful business owners and professionals. 

Our media likes to tell the stories of the ‘big splash’ with lots of dollar signs, but there are plenty of others waiting to be created … and told.

Legacy In Story

Remember last year’s Clint Eastwood movie, Gran Torino?  It is a story about the clash of deeply held cultures and beliefs, and about the common values of life that unite us all.  The story itself is one of legacy, as is Mr. Eastwood’s lifetime of work.

For whatever else it depicts, Gran Torino focuses in on how we impact others, how we are called upon to create that impact, whether or not we respond to the call, and what we leave behind to benefit them (that is uniquely ours to give) when we discover and feel called to give it.  The story is as powerful an example of legacy in development as any I can think of.  I wasn’t so crazy about the ending, but for purposes of the movie, it fit.

I was especially moved by an excerpt from the lyrics of the title song:

Your world
Is nothing more
Than all
The tiny things
You’ve left

So tenderly
Your story is
Nothing more
Than what you see
What you’ve done
Or will become
Standing strong
Do you belong
In your skin
Just wondering

And I am wondering the same.  Do you belong in your skin?  Are you comfortable there?  Are you truly exercising your unique gifts and giving back from there to make the world, your little corner of it, a better place?

We have each been endowed with gifts and talents that we are especially good at, that may well be easy for us, and even enjoyable – that can also benefit others. Will you tap into the pure joy and personal meaning that comes with doing what’s easy and enjoyable for you … for others? It doesn’t take hard work to help others, just good work – the kind you’re ready and willing to do.  Will you grow into and become those attributes and consciously leave behind those tiny things that you can, or maybe even something more? Are you contributing to life in the ways only you are able?

Start by recognizing today all you are good at and all you are grateful for … then build from there.

What Legacy Is Your Life?

We’re often asked when the notion of legacy first came to us.  Dolly certainly learned the term while studying the law of estates and trusts, an offshoot of the law of property.  Working in medicine for so many years, I thought much of legacy was about healthy living during a lifetime and being in service. Both of us thought legacy always seemed like so much more than a person’s real and personal property, land, buildings, money, watches, jewelry, art collections, farm equipment, etc., etc. …

When Dolly was practicing law in Austin, Texas, she was often appointed as attorney ad litem in probate cases to represent and protect the rights of the unknown heirs of a person who died “intestate” – without a will.  Such people either didn’t know about writing a will or must have felt that they didn’t own enough property it.

Note to self:  if you are reading this now, you probably own enough property to warrant writing a will.  If you have a computer, you quite likely have a checking account, maybe even a savings and some investment accounts and credit cards.  You may also have other things that are legally titled in your name like vehicles and a house or some land.  Your heirs, the people entitled to that property by law at your death, will have to go through a whole lotta rigamarole in court, known as a probate proceeding, to be able to do anything with the stuff that is in your name if you don’t leave written instructions in a will.  Once the will gets proven up as legal in court (probated), it can be “administered” and things can be handled and distributed according to your wishes under court supervision. (Preferably leave instructions in a trust document that allows you to avoid the court proceedings for the most part, so things can be handled privately — and hire a good lawyer to help with all this because this blog post is probably as far from legal advice as you can get).

But I digress from Dolly’s original thoughts and message …

Back to the unknown heirs.  Dolly never intended to practice probate or estate law.  On top of that, she was now in the position of practicing law where her clients were people no one was sure existed or could find.  So her first task was to find her clients. Then the property to be distributed under the law of intestate succession (who gets what when there is no will) – often a home and/or a vehicle or two – could be given to the people who were expecting to get it.

Occasionally she would actually find some long lost relative. Often is was a child born from a relationship the deceased had that no one (often including the child) knew about – a half-sibling to the heirs who got to meet through this strange courtroom process – so the property could be divided up and distributed properly.

Even in cases where there was not much property, Dolly tells me she remembers being  so surprised during the investigation by how the deceased person was remembered.  Often, it was quite fondly for some small act of kindness they had done, a contribution they had made in the way they participated in their community, something they had built, or even some small but pertinent piece of advice and support they’d given along the way.  It wasn’t about their stuff.  That was the least of it – and yet, what this whole probate process was making the biggest deal about.

In every case, someone was remembered for something beyond their worldly goods.  They were remembered for who they were — what their life was really about.

All this started Dolly wondering how amazing the world might be if people consciously thought about who they are and what contribution they have to make to others.  What if they sized up their own strengths, talents and gifts, and consciously decided to make a positive difference, to seek to be remembered for good rather than for purposes of fame or power? 

The unique assets of each person, which might well include their property, could be used to benefit others, and they would get to hear about how they’d made a difference and be appreciated for it during their lifetime.  In turn, that gift of thanks would create a real sense of joy and fulfillment that would produce a self-perpetuating desire to do more, because it feels good not because there is some remuneration or vast dollar amount in it.  Hmmm, can you just hear John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ playing in the background …

Thinking about legacy as your life, rather than your stuff, seems to us to be the larger notion of what a legacy truly is.

*How would you be engaged in life differently from that perspective?
*What would you start doing or stop doing or become involved in right now?
*Who would you reach out to? What are you waiting for?

Interesting food for thought.  What say you about your life and your legacy?

Cheers!  Dolly and Eliza

The Who and The What of Legacy

The term legacy most often generates thoughts of “what.”  Some tangible thing produced and left behind.  I agree that some form of asset or artifact can be very much a part of your legacy.  But more important is the “who” behind the “what.”  That’s what makes the “what” what it is!

To me, legacy is about equal parts of “beingness” and “doingness.”  What is unique about you – who and what you love, what bothers and delights you? What are your “IVANMAERS”?

The term is an abbreviation for your interests, values, abilities, natural style, motivations, activities, environments, realities and stressors.  Can you begin to clearly identify these aspects of yourself?

Knowing what they are allows you to fully appreciate your individual gifts – the ones only you can contribute in your individual way, based on the unique design of your DNA and your life circumstances.  It makes you a true power to rekon with – not in the “win, kill and conquer” sense, but in the magnificent ability to “do” that only you possess.

“A bird sings not because it has an answer, but because it has a song.”
— Chinese proverb

From that perspective, there is no competition, there is only you and what you came here capable of doing.  Will you discover yourself and do it?