What Kind of Legacy Will You Leave?

April 19, 2010

By Carolyn Anderson, MD

There are moments in your life that can be transformative and impactful and they often happen without warning. Moments that make you think about the age old question, “what is the meaning of life?” And has it mattered that I am here?

Last week a trip to drop some material off at my office and connect with the amazing people that work with me ended up being one of those moments. I have been on maternity leave for the last year and spending time enjoying being a mom and bonding with my one year old boy Nicholas. We were driving along the usual route to the office, he was sleeping and I was listening to tunes and taking in the beautiful sunny day.

As I exited the freeway and headed towards the office I heard a horrendous BANG. Something had hit the truck and hard.

I looked down at my pants and they were covered in glass, I quickly turned back to Nicholas who was fortunately facing backwards in the car seat, and saw that small shards of glass were dusting the top of his little bald head and glistening throughout his wisps of white blond hair.

In the next instant, I looked forward to see a huge dent in the windshield. Glass shards covered the dashboard.  The crack in the windshield spread out in circular rings right in my line of sight and in front of my head was a tiny hole that I reached forward and poked my finger through.

I pulled over to gain my composure. As I stopped the vehicle I was overwhelmed with the emotion of what had just happened. The dump truck that had been heading towards me must have discharged a large rock that almost came right through my windshield.   I immediately called my husband to hear his voice and got in the backseat to look at my little miracle. He had slept through the entire ordeal.

Time stood still while I sat and watched his breathing.  I thanked God a million times that he was fine, that we were fine.

As I turned the vehicle back on the road to make my way to Apple Auto Glass my thoughts turned to how quickly it could all be over. You could wake up one morning, choke down your oatmeal, kiss your spouse and head out the door and then that’s it; your life is over. Thinking this way, while morbid, can actually be transformative. It led me to gain an even greater appreciation for the moment and to really think about the impact I want to have on the world while I am here.

What will your legacy be?Think about it… How will the world be impacted because you have lived? What good will you leave behind? There is no question that at the end of the day – who we are and how we showed up in our life will shape our legacy. I think it is of benefit to all of us, young and old, to spend some time thinking about our purpose in life, our reason for being.

It often has something to do with the greater good or the benefit of others. When we are young and career minded our focus is often on learning and earning. It is often later in life when we focus more on the returning. Through this returning we gain the opportunity to create a legacy that will outlive us and impact the world when we are gone. But how do we define our purpose in life?

I think to live on purpose and leave the legacy we hope to leave we must live consistently with our values. To determine your values ask yourself the following four questions:

1) Jump to the end of your life and ask yourself the three most important lessons you have learned and why they are so critical.

2) Think of someone you deeply respect and describe three qualities that you admire in them.

3) Ask yourself who you are when you are at your best.

4) What is the one sentence inscription you would like to see on your tombstone.

The answers to these questions will help to define your values. A clear sense of your values and following them daily in your life will lead to a consistent and impactful life. This life will leave a rich legacy.

Living with purpose in your life leads to not only a better life but also a longer life. In a study by the University of Rochester’s Human Motivation Research group, people who live with purpose exhibited more happiness and confidence as well as greater performance than a control group motivated mainly by external demands or rewards. Another study conducted by Rush University Medical Center found that people with a higher sense of purpose actually live longer.

So it seems that living on purpose will not only help you leave a rich and amazing legacy it will possibly give you a longer time to do it. Go ahead make your mark on the world.

What legacy will you leave?

About the Author: Dr. Carolyn Anderson is the founder of Impowerage. Her mission in life is to empower seniors with the information they need to continue living healthy active lifestyles.

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