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.)
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.
I saw this graphic posted a few times on social media last month and it affected me, deeply.
Given the ever-widening gap in agreement and civility among Americans generally, and my family and friends specifically, it made me sad, profoundly.
But, in other ways, this sentiment encouraged me, more than a little.
Like nearly any American who experienced this national tragedy, I will never forget the horror of September 11th, or the incredible days after, starting with September 12th. I can only hope that this sentiment, this call for unity will become a clarion call to each one of us to dig deeper, reach farther, and simply be better than we are today.
As we, finally!, head into the last two weeks of an election season riddled with petty, childish behavior, and outright ugliness, that, unfortunately, is our modern-day political landscape, I am choosing to try to stand a little taller as an American. I am raising my voice, not angry just hopefully loud enough to be heard, into the face of the intensity of political machinations by both sides in Washington DC, that inevitably bleeds all over Facebook and Twitter.
I am simply sharing an idea or two to help close this enormous divide and earnestly hope that you, dear reader, will find one small thing, or even something larger, in what I have to share, that helps us all stop this toxic divisiveness and heal our country.
As I see it, America is a nation deeply divided and, really, in existential upheaval. And I believe that many, but certainly not all, who call themselves Americans actually want this country to be UNITED. To go back to more love, acceptance, determination and selflessness-the beautiful values nearly any American with a heart carried with them for weeks, if not longer, post 9/11. Arguably our darkest days as a nation for decades.
In the purest sense, America is a concept. A beautiful, powerful concept but a concept nonetheless. Attaining the American Dream has compelled men, women, and children for centuries to risk their very lives to come here. We, you and I, are here now and I believe we have lost touch with the fundamental elements of what has made America a shining example to the world for centuries: democracy, human rights, liberty, opportunity, and equality.
Concepts are great in setting a vision but executing that vision, i.e. making it real, requires action. Below are actions we ALL can take to help us stop this downward spiral of discord, rage, and even hate and start our return to being the UNITED States of America once again.
U-Understand the Unfamiliar
Humans generally fear what we don’t understand. The unfamiliar or foreign; whether they be people, thoughts, or words. There’s nothing wrong with being afraid but we cannot stay stuck in a state of ignorance or misunderstanding and expect to have that powerful emotion of fear to not influence or, even worse, dictate our actions.
By at least sincerely trying to understand another person, another way of looking at things requires courage and it requires a beat, maybe two or three. A beat, or pause, of reflection in that moment of hearing or seeing something or someone unfamiliar before we respond can open minds, build relationships, and foster change. We would all do well to take a breath to seek understanding and not just pretend to listen while we are crafting our retort or comeback.
Understanding, or just trying to, does NOT equal agreement. We don’t have to agree with each other to get along, do we? Think of the people in your life that you would fight, or even die, for. Do you agree with everything they think, say, or do? No, you don’t. Imagine sharing some of that generosity, that beat, with your neighbors and Facebook “friends.” I believe that just attempting this can go a long way toward mending broken fences and shoring up battered hearts.
The current level of toxicity, anger, and conflict in the USA is palpable. Facebook and Twitter have become a political, moral, and emotional minefield, where kindness and thoughtfulness are nearly absent. (Where did the freaking cute cat videos all go?!)
On Facebook recently I was called “an enemy of my former church” and not one of my friends or family who knows how absurd that is called that out as utter BS. I’m a big boy and don’t need the help but I was just shocked first of all that someone would say that and, then that no one called it out. We need to have each other’s backs and call out negativity when we see it or we will just keep to spiraling down the cultural toilet bowl.
Sadly, millions of people appear to be entertained by verbally spitting on each other, pulling each other’s rhetorical hair, and just plain being mean. If you are one of these people (I will admit that I have had my moments) it might help to go on a social media diet, or even better a 14-day fast (that’ll get us through the election chaos, hopefully.) In fact, this essay will be my last action on Facebook until at least after the election is over.
I am guessing that my blood pressure will go down. My productivity will go up. And, generally, my ability to see what really matters and live in the precious moments of life I get will improve. You may experience the same positive “side effects.”
And if you just can’t (you can!) get out of the social media death spiral then at least try and pepper in a little understanding and a lot more positivity into your comments. Try to pretend you aren’t hiding behind a keyboard in the dark at home (we see you) and consider if you would actually have the desire or guts to really say to another human being’s face what you are typing in the comments section of their post.
We all have our favorite sources of information. I get that. They are familiar to us and are conveniently on our favorite channel list or bookmarked pages. The problem is that all too often our sources of information and facts are delivered by people and companies who have an agenda and what they deliver to us tend to merely solidify what we already believe. So, when we closely guard or blindly defend our sources or “facts,” we simultaneously shut off the chance to learn, to grow. It’s a toxic echo chamber that doesn’t serve you and certainly doesn’t help us unite as Americans.
I know many really smart people across the political ideology spectrum who are so dogmatic in their views that they start to look really dependent, the opposite of independent, by immediately adopting and espousing information given to them by their chosen source. This is even more dangerously true when it comes to familiar political figures. “Well, so and so said this so it must be true.” Really? “It must be true?”
Without even a beat mentioned above, accepting a “fact” or view given by someone we support is called intellectual laziness. Regardless of our political views, if we don’t root it out we will become (continue to be?) nothing more than useful idiots to whichever news sources or politicians we choose to serve and support.
So, please, avid FoxNews viewer, try watching CNN or MSNBC once in a while. And, MSNBC fans consider checking out FoxNews from time to time. Ultimately, I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU WATCH OR READ so long as you take it all with a grain, or a hundred grains, of salt and get a different and balanced view regularly.
Having done that then we can wisely synthesize this information and come to our own conclusions. That is the independence of thought that I believe will bond us all together when we realize that we very likely agree with one another much more than we disagree. You agree?
We teach nearly everyone we interact with: our families, our friends, our colleagues, even passers-by and strangers on the street, by our behavior and words. It’s called an example and it’s the most powerful way we can teach and lead.
And man, do we need some teaching, some leading, and some temperance ’round here right about now!
If you think everyone else is wrong and you are exclusively the owner of all things good, right, and intelligent you may need a little more temperance in your life.
As horrified as I was on September 11th, 2001 when I hurriedly exited the Bank of America building in San Francisco to race home, I was equally proud of our President, George W. Bush, and my entire country as we rallied together to rise from this incredible tragedy.
You could actually start to feel the spirit of America rising on September 12th, and even more strongly in the ensuing days.
Hillary Clinton actually used similar words a week before the President’s speech. In the context of finding and eliminating the terrorists who carried out the attacks of September 11th, I believe they both were right.
But this zero sum mentality, “with us or against us,” an ally or an enemy, does not and should not apply to our fellow citizens. We disagree on so many things in America, and that is OK, but without agreeing that extremism in all forms is toxic we will devolve further and the fabric of our country will tear irreparably.
Identify extremism and call it out. Be kind and be measured, but be firm. This is how the battle for the soul of our country will be won.
My father gave a part of his life to defend and spread American principles fighting in the Vietnam War. Principles outlined in a moving and instructive exhibition at the Library of Congress:
Thankfully, my father is still alive but the toll the war took on him and our family is evident, painfully at times. I know that our family is not alone in this. As Americans, we owe it to the tens of millions of men and women who fought to defend these principles, and the unseen millions of loved ones who kept the home fires burning and have had to deal with the trauma of war for many years after the return of their soldier, whether in person or in a box.
Together, as Americans, we repay our brave brothers and sisters and keep the American experiment brightly burning by defending diligently the principles of America.
I was born at the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War. Over my lifetime I fear the brightness of America has dimmed as too many of us have too often strayed near hateful ideas and/or people that are antithetical to the beautiful principles of America. We must reject weak and unprincipled thinking and behaviors from all sides that have steadily oozed into our country these past few decades.
We only serve our country, and those who have sacrificed so much for all of us, by remembering these principles the American revolutionaries established and by vigorously defending them against people and entities, foreign and domestic, that distort or hijack them for personal gain.
Two weeks from today is November 4th, the day after the most contentious and crazy election in our young history as a country. I plead with you, and remind myself, to do our part to make November 4th more like September 12th open to and maybe even actively displaying kindness, understanding, and temperance.
I truly believe that “UNITED we stand and DIVIDED we fall.”
The coolest thing is which way we now go is up to WE, the people. Let’s be UNITED.
“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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 get ’em;
…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.”
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.
Be honest. A year ago, did you think 2020 would be the shit show it’s turned out to be? (And we are barely half-way through it.) Pretty sure nobody thought that.
Just this week I realized on a whole new level of clarity just how deeply the events of 2020 are affecting me psychologically and emotionally. And I know I am not alone.
I was born Positive. Hopeful. Optimistic. And I was born as a white male into a country built largely on those same values.
So, it feels strange and foreign to be scared. To be tired. To be unmotivated. I hate it.
These crazy days of COVID, coupled with deep racial tensions, and the political cowardice plaguing the USA, have made every day a grind and seemingly full of more tension, doom, and ugly than any time I can remember.
And it is precisely in these times of real burden, weight, and gloom that I remember that the only person responsible for how I feel is ME. (I am also reminded that no one else cares about my happiness and well-being more than I do so I need to stop waiting and hoping for someone else to help me.)
This brings me to an ideal that I am going to re-visit: being LOYAL to myself.
Loyalty to self is the essence of self-confidence. And self-confidence brings energy. Brings opportunities. Brings growth.
So, how am I going to show myself loyalty?
Daily choosing one hard thing to do and then doing it.
Not gonna talk about it. Not gonna share it (probably). Just shut my mouth, put my head down, and do it. That’s it.
I have learned over and over that doing hard things is where the growth is and on the other side of growth is where happiness, fulfillment, and peace lie.
So, when I am loyal to myself - I could care less what others may think, or if they judge my daily “hard thing” as not really hard at all - I grow confident in my ability to do things, even hard things. And that inspires me to be loyal to myself again tomorrow and probably the day after that, and so on.
For now, it will be one hard thing daily because that feels like enough of a stretch with everything going on.
But as I focus on this practice I am Positive, Hopeful, and Optimistic that I will feel better and, therefore, be able to be better.