Leaving a legacy behind may sound like something reserved for history books or a blockbuster movie — like it’s a status for bigger-than-life characters. But everyone leaves one behind, both personally and professionally. Your personal values, nurtured relationships, and free time activities all form the building blocks of your legacy.
Amidst the day-to-day grind of building your career and managing the highs and lows of everyday life, you may become distracted. You might seldom stop to contemplate the broad strokes that make the persona people remember you by.
Taking the time to self-reflect about the legacy you’re leaving and the one you’d like to leave is a way to step back and consider the bigger picture. Defining what motivates you to give life your all can fill you with a sense of intention and belonging that offers joy and purpose.
What legacy will you leave behind? Let’s find out.
What does it mean to leave a legacy?
The definition of a lasting legacy is the positive impact your life has on other people — friends, colleagues, even strangers. Your legacy is the sum of the personal values, accomplishments, and actions that resonate with the people around you. It’s how you made a difference in the world, whether that’s building a Fortune 500 company or always putting a smile on peoples’ faces.
But how to leave a legacy — and just how big you want it to be — is a big question without a single, right answer. The meaning of leaving a legacy for you may be becoming the first in your family to graduate from university, starting a business that gives back to your community, or always treating others with kindness and empathy.
The importance of leaving a legacy
Everyone creates and retells their own narrative — your life story both connects you to your community and differentiates you from the lives that others lead. In other words, your legacy is what makes you unique. It doesn’t just give you good family stories to tell. It fills you with a sense of unity and purpose.
Humans are intrinsically motivated by the need to belong and feel a sense of purpose. Belonging to a community and finding purpose are as essential as they are interlinked. When you find your life’s path, you’ll most likely find others with similar values hoping to reach the same objectives, creating your community.
Here are a few ways that leaving a good legacy can improve your life:
- Better mental health: People with a strong sense of purpose enjoy improved well-being. Consciously trying to leave a good legacy might make you happier and more satisfied with life. And living a purposeful life can make you more resilient to depression and anxiety.
Greater resilience: One study on college students found that a sense of purpose makes people more resilient to challenges.
If you’re intrinsically motivated to create a family legacy of financial security for the next generation or build a non-profit organization for an underserved community, roadblocks will be easier to ride out. No matter how difficult, you’ve got your eye on the finish line.
A higher quality of life: People who perceive their lives as meaningful and purposeful tend to live longer. All those feelings of satisfaction, happiness, and personal fulfillment are positive emotions that reduce stress and contribute to stronger physical health.
How to build a legacy: 4 steps
Although your legacy encompasses your entire life’s journey, it’s never too late to re-evaluate and change course. Here are four ways to take charge of your life’s legacy:
Evaluate your life: Life’s daily challenges can sometimes distract your purpose, so take a moment to evaluate your life. Journal about what you want people to say about you and your life.
Then determine whether your work and personal life align with these values and objectives. If they do, you’re on the right track and know where to continue to put in work. If you don’t like where you’re at thus far — that’s okay — it’s never too late to put yourself on your desired path.
Uncover your X factor: Consider the legacies of people you admire, determining the common thread. They likely had something unique that few others possessed. Whether it’s an innovative service or fine-tuned soft skill, figuring out what makes them special can help you decide where you want to grow.
Find your purpose: Defining your life’s legacy likely feels elusive if you don’t fully grasp your life’s calling. Without purpose, life is a ship with no sails, moving aimlessly without any specific intention to guide decision-making, relationships, and personal development.
Your legacy is largely determined by the values that guide you. You’ll live life differently if your values are creativity versus charity. If you don’t know your guiding principles, now’s the time to brainstorm.
Celebrate your community: Your legacy lives on in the relationships you build with family members, colleagues, and friends. Don’t just focus on your accomplishments. Recognize, celebrate, and lift up your community’s achievements.
This fosters a positive environment and inspires others to strive to be their best selves. And leading by example won’t only contribute to your legacy, it’ll also create a shared legacy with a positive ripple effect on your entire community.
Leaving a legacy in business: 5 ways
Work takes up a significant chunk of your day and personal identity. And leaving a legacy at work can help you build a fulfilling career with purpose and intention. Here are five ways to create a professional legacy:
Take risks: Stepping out of your comfort zone forces you to trust your gut and unleash your potential. Adopt a growth mindset that pushes you to take on ambitious projects, advocate for your disruptive ideas, and take smart risks. Even if you fail along the way, perseverance and new lessons learned will all become a part of your legacy.
Pursue a life of learning: Knowledge is infinite, and prioritizing a life of new lessons equips you with tools to share your wisdom and experiences with others. In addition to fine-tuning professional skills and industry knowledge, commit to a personal life of learning, too.
Learning a new language, reading up on local history, and developing interpersonal skills all positively contribute to the value you bring to those around you.
Share your wisdom: If your life were a serial podcast, who would they interview to tell your story? You spread your legacy by sharing your values, know-how, and experiences with the world.
Ask yourself how you can use your wisdom to help your community. Leading seminars about your industry, sharing know-how with colleagues, or becoming a mentor are all examples of leaving a legacy in your career.
Build your brand: Curating your personal brand guides how others perceive you. Define how you’d like others to remember you and align your decisions and communications with this professional persona. To be recognized as an industry leader, you could create a podcast, curate your social media, or vlog on YouTube to control this message.
Dream big and plan accordingly: Reflect on your biggest career dreams, like building a business to pass on or winning a career accolade. Looking into the future helps you determine what you want to then create your legacy.
Once you have long-term goals in mind, start breaking down your goals into smaller steps, whether a five-year or 10-year plan. Adjust and re-organize when necessary, keeping your sights on the finish line to make strategic and well-informed decisions.
What does leaving a legacy mean to you? 12 questions to find out
Whether you clearly understand your legacy or not, it’s always a good idea to check in with yourself.
Here are 12 questions to uncover the lasting impact you hope to make:
Which values define a good person?
What life lessons have most impacted me and how I live?
What know-how or lasting impression have I made on others’ lives so far?
What’s one thing I’d like future generations to remember about me?
What positive family traditions do I strive to keep up?
Are there any physical or financial possessions I’d like to bequest in my estate plans, like real estate, investments, or a business?
What positive changes would I like to see in the world?
What do I hope my family members, loved ones, and colleagues say about me?
What work or activities make me feel the most motivated and fulfilled?
What talents can I bring to positively influence my community, workplace, or family?
What initiatives can I take to align my actions with the legacy I’d like to leave?
What’s my greatest accomplishment?
Build a life, build a legacy
Leaving a legacy isn’t a matter of choice. Legacies are a part of the cycle of life. But managing the impression you leave behind means understanding your core values. And knowing your guiding principles means you get to enjoy a more meaningful life.
Discovering your purpose requires hard work and deep self-reflection, but it’s worth the effort. Once you find it, it’ll shape the decisions and life experiences that sculpt a legacy you and your community can be proud of.