Most people say they want to leave some sort of legacy in life. Even if they don’t say it, there is usually some sort of desire. We all want to be remembered because being remembered means that our lives had meaning and significance to someone other than ourselves. Some people call this eternal life, living on posthumously through something you created or left behind. The sad thing is most people don’t leave a legacy. And then there is another large group that get remembered through occasional visits to their tombstone and materials left in their will (i.e. money, house, etc) which ultimately deplete.
Many spiritual teachers’ such as Jesus, Confucius, Lao Tzu, and Buddha have left legacies that lasted milennia. Many inventors have left legacies that have lasted centuries like Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone or the Wright Brothers and the airplane. Artists of all types like Leonardo Davinci also leave legacies that last centuries. Some entrepreneurs and civic leaders tend to leave legacies that last decades or centuries as well. Below are four ways that you can consider leaving a legacy through some sort of vehicle or body. The higher your personal velocity during life is, the further your legacy will carry on after your engine conks out.
1. Baby bodies: How great a parent are you committed to being?
This is perhaps the easiest way to leave a legacy because almost anyone can have a child. We know that if we have kids and then they have kids, etc, etc, then our name will live on. In essence, we’re all a part of someone’s legacy biologically, but simply having kids limits your legacy to your family when your sphere of influence could actually be wider. The risk one takes to make a child is low, therefore the impact isn’t guaranteed to be great. The dilemma here is that some people think they have to give up on their non-biological legacy to ensure that their kid can leave a legacy, but we all have a legacy to leave whether we have kids or not.
2. Body of work: What are you creating that could impact the world for decades or centuries?
Musicians, artists, filmmakers, actors, authors, athletes, inventors, and others leave legacies through bodies of work. They leave behind music, paintings, films, books, inventions, and more. The risk one takes to make a living doing what they love—overcoming the predominant rumors of “the starving artist”—is great and not everyone makes it. But those who push the envelope and challenge the assumptions, limitations, and status quo of their field, industry, or genre usually aren’t forgotten because of their boldness and innovation. Examples include Michael Jackson, Charlie Chaplin, Edgar Allen Poe, George Washington Carver, Ben Franklin, and more.
3. Institutional body: What spaces are you creating to empower other people?
Entrepreneurs, spiritual and civic leaders, and educational pioneers fit here. They create companies, non-profits, governments, religions, colleges, universities, associations, and systems. The difference between a body of work and an institutional body is that an institutional body creates space for other people to grow and develop whereas a body of work typically comes from an individual. The risk of creating an institutional body includes all of the risk associated with creating a body of work in addition to financing buildings, supporting other people, and push back from existing institutions that yours may threaten. Once they grow from their cultish state to impacting overall culture, they are integrated in fabric of society. However, unless institutions evolve beyond their founder’s original vision and stay relevant to the times, they can become hollow buildings with no purpose except to keep going for the sake of continuing to go.
4. Body in service: What cause are you willing to die for?
Martyrs, soldiers, and servants to society give their bodies in service and they are remembered for their selfless sacrifice moreso than something they created and left behind. The legacies of those assassinated in the 1960s will live on, not just because they were assassinated, but the beliefs and principles that publicly stood for so strongly that caused their assassinations. And then there are servants to society like soldiers and those doing Mother Theresa-like work giving up their lives and worldly possessions to ensure that the forgotten members of society are loved and supported.