What is a legacy?

Merriam-Webster defines legacy as: “something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past.”

Someday you and I will be a “someone in the past.” And what we do with our “present,” our today, will answer the much more important question: what will our legacy be?

Three things I know about legacy-

1. We all leave a legacy, for good or not so good.

2. The actions we take over the course of our lives heavily influence our legacy BUT we cannot really know or fully determine how the “someones” in the future will ultimately measure us.

3. It is NEVER too late to make our potential legacies more than they are today.

1. You will leave a legacy

Contrary to what you may think or may have been taught, a legacy is not reserved for the wealthy who name buildings and monuments after themselves. While the size or workmanship of these edifices may impress some now or in the future, I argue that the legacy that matters most is best measured by the depth to which you impact people in this life.

You see, your reputation is your legacy. And while you may never have a tall, shiny building or a huge rocking portfolio that confirms just how great you are (who knows, maybe you will, doesn’t matter) crafting a life worth remembering and instructing future generations starts and ends with building others and a portfolio of selfless acts.

The number of people you impact does not matter. (So, stop worrying about and counting the number of followers or likes your posts garner.) Rather, it is the quality with which you impact those people that matters most. This is because just like financial wealth, human impact compounds. There is an immeasurable but real multiplier effect when we touch the life of another human. A kind word, a selfless act, a willing sacrifice, spreads love, growth, and progress more meaningfully from person to person than any campus building, park bench, or impressive pile of cash.

So, my fellow “someone in the present,” you and I, alongside the captains of industry, the highly-acclaimed and glorified, and the vaunted influencer superstars of the past and today, will leave a legacy. If that’s news to you, then read on. (You should keep reading even if you already knew that.)

Credit: @Lndtxphoto

2. You can influence but not fully determine your legacy

The funny thing about legacy is that the ultimate measure of whether it’s a good one or a not-so-good one seems to take history a really long time to turn in its final vote. How many humans that have come before us were not understood at best or vilified at worst by their contemporaries only to be lauded as geniuses or saints by future generations? To me, this means that until we take our last breath we still have time. Even the poorest and least sparkly among the fabulous have a shot at making legacy matter. We have time to work harder, smarter. Time to recover and make right the things we inevitably screw up. What a gift!

3. It’s never too late

So, what then? What do we do with this gift of time?

Take risks. Do the thing that your soul whispers you to do. (This thing will also be the thing that scares you to death. That’s how you know it’s the thing.)

Be in the now. Honestly, who cares if or how future civilizations will judge you? It’s the people around you right now in this journey who matter most. Love them, inspire them, thrill them, and go deep with them. That is what will influence your legacy more than anything else. The rest is up to the legacy gods, the universe, or whomever. Let them do their thing because apparently, they’re gonna anyway.

Take your shot. Follow your heart. Focus on what’s right before you and how you can be most additive to the people and situations that only you are uniquely positioned to impact.

Make your mark. The world is watching and waiting. Today, this very damn day, is your only guaranteed chance to keep building your legacy. Maybe tomorrow comes for you. Maybe it doesn’t. Today is here and your legacy, and the people around you, need some love.

Let’s go!

The Ride of Life

“Click. Click. Click. Click.” as you pull down the overhead restraint.

“Pull on the yellow tabs,” says the operator.

Your palms start to sweat a little…maybe a lot.

Then your car lurches forward, leaving the platform. And in the blink of an eye, the ability to stop what’s about to happen is gone.

This exciting, or, in some cases, terrifying, roller-coaster moment is a lot like life because once it starts, the ending is pre-determined and unavoidable.

Roller coasters come back to the station and you can hop back in line and ride again. Life is the only ride you get and it always ends in death. (My apologies to anyone who knows someone who has died while on an actual roller coaster because apparently that is a thing.)

Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez

When it comes to life, being born means you will eventually die. This is one of life’s only two certainties. (The other one is taxes, which will not be the subject of any of my essays…ever!)

Note that in between birth and death is LIFE and all of its UNcertainties: the exhilarating twists, turns, and stomach-churning loop-de-loops. But just like riding a roller coaster, with our eyes open even partially, we will see that it is in the naturally occurring uncertainties of the space between our birth and our death where all the “good stuff” actually happens: the growth, the wisdom, the love, the laughter…and, I hope, unforgettably fun days at amusement parks riding actual roller coasters.

Even the unpleasant, uncomfortable, unfair, unbelievably painful shit that happens can actually be viewed (eventually?) as part of the good stuff so long as they present opportunities to grow and earn the good stuff above: the wisdom, the love, etc.

But what if we do this “ride of life” with a death grip on the restraint, eyes tightly closed, and screaming in fear the entire time? Seems to me, and my half-century on earth would support this, that approach would diminish not just the ability to acquire the good stuff, but also the quality of that which we do manage to acquire.

Eyes wide open.

Hands in the air.

Screams, and maybe tears, of laughter and delight.

Courtesy of Gabriel Valdez

One of the most exhilarating, and sometimes terrifying, sections of the roller coaster of life is romantic relationships. Talk about ups and downs!

And just like with life, the end result of falling in love is also unavoidable, guaranteed hurt at some level. Hear me out: you will either fall out of love someday, maybe even spectacularly, or death (remember him?) will end your relationship. And unless you die at the exact same time in the loving arms of your sweetheart, you will hurt, even grieve, and perhaps feel the most exquisite pain imaginable.

Yep. The glorious second your heart skips a beat and your palms get sweaty in the presence of your new crush you are guaranteed some level of eventual pain and heartache. Happy thoughts, I know…sorry!

But does this promise of pain mean you don’t get on the crazy coaster of companionship? Can you skip this section of life’s roller coaster? I don’t know. I guess you can do whatever you want. But consider this: it is ALL painful. Just life by itself. And if you are reading this then you are already in the thick of the pain, the sadness, the hardness, and yeah, the uncertainty of life, and maybe of a relationship.

So, let’s just stipulate to this: in relationships, uncertainty is certain. Pain is certain. But if those two things are certain then so is some joy, some pleasure, and some happy. Maybe lots of it! And so long as you have more pleasure than pain, more happy than sad, more growth than stagnation with the human of your dreams, then reach over, squeeze the hand of your ride partner, and enjoy the ride. There will be ups and downs, pain, heartache, blah blah blah, but if that person makes the roller coaster of life so much more interesting, tolerable, enjoyable, even fun then consider yourself lucky and hold on for this amazing section of the track.

Nothing is guaranteed in love, except for pain, so if your love works then I hope this section of track lasts forever for you and your partner. But if for some reason, your car breaks down on the track, you stop having fun, and the bad stuff outweighs the good with no hope for repair or rescue, then ride alone for a while and, perhaps sooner than later you will muster the courage to be open to a new partner, a new ride, a new love.

Look, the most important thing we can do as humans, as individuals, is to live our best life; to connect with and execute our innate and unique potential. Do what makes YOU happy. Love YOU. Be true to who YOU are.

It is only then that you will be able to make someone else happy. It has to happen in that order. You figure this out and you will make the most of all of the ride you have left and help at least one other person do the same. Nice work!

Don’t wait. Don’t overthink it. Don’t be scared.

You know that feeling at the end of the roller coaster ride when the car abruptly slows then crawls into the station? And you think, “Well, that was awesome!” This is also how the end of life sneaks up on us. And you just wish you had even one more turn, one more drop, and your stomach drops when you realize that you don’t. That, for you, the ride is over.

When this feeling hits you, at the end of your life or of a relationship, I hope you can find gratitude and perspective. I hope you find peace knowing that you rode the hell out of that ride with:

Eyes wide open.

Hands in the air.

Screams, and maybe tears, of laughter and delight.

“My time to go?”

These days, I keep hearing people say: “Well, if it’s my time to go, then it’s my time to go.”

This is usually said as “tough guy” commentary on the widespread and understandable range of emotions we humans all seem to be experiencing in 2020, ranging from utter panic to uncomfortable impatience to intense anger at the state of the world today.

Whether this mindset is employed to try and justify one’s unjustifiable opposition to mask mandates or, far more importantly, to muster the courage to march and rally in the streets for racial justice, I have come to two conclusions.

  1. We shouldn’t be confused thinking that the reckless bravado of people throwing their hands up with a live and let die attitude can’t mask the risk to others with whom we share the earth from turning “my time to go” into “your time to go.”
  2. Conversely, if you use this phrase to mean “I am going to fight for what I believe is right, my values, justice, a better world even if that means I may be harmed, or die, then GO! Fight! Create change! But do it with a far kinder and more evolved attitude of live and let live.

This second approach to living deeply resonates with me because I subscribe to the notion that, in all areas of life, it’s healthiest for us to not fixate on things (or people) out of our control and instead focus on managing things within our own sphere of influence. Clearly, I have no ability to control what someone else does, and you don’t either, BUT we can make this our “time to go” and be better humans. Be better examples.

So, when you say “If it’s my time to go, then it’s my time to go,” and substitute the meaning of the word “go” to mean LIVE, instead of die, then YES!, it IS “time to go.” In fact, it’s time, probably high time, to:

Go for it;

Go forth;

Go get ’em;

Go live…

…and be a better human.

“YOU are a one-time phenomenon in the universe—your exact genetic makeup has never occurred nor will it ever be repeated.” 

Robert Greene, Author of Mastery 

I love this truth, and try to remember and live it daily.

Do you know what this means? It means that in the context of “go” meaning “live like it’s your last day,” IT IS ALWAYS “MY TIME TO GO!

Like you, I have just this one shot at life to make the most of my potential and it feels best when I am actively employing my unique set of talents, inclinations, passions, experiences, and lessons from people in my life to be better. To be good, maybe even great. Above all, to try and do MY best each and every day. Because, yes, each new day IS another shot at improvement but, like yours, my days are numbered and someday it will be my time to go.

Meanwhile, is it my time to GO? Hell yes it is!

Is it yours? (Hint: yeah it is!)

Let’s go!