We are going to die. We don’t get a say in the matter, but what we do have control over is what we do with the time that we are alive. It’s fleeting, so we need to make it count. Facing our own mortality is not something we enjoy, but it’s so important that it’s accomplished. The concept of legacy – what it is, what kind you want, and how to make that a reality– is something that plagues most men. And justifiably so. It’s what we leave behind and is the summation of our existence.
What does legacy mean to you? Take some time to think about that. Even if you’re a young man like myself, legacy is always relevant. It is worth your time.
I’m still developing my thoughts on what legacy means to me, but I do know that it isn’t the money I will leave my children, but the lessons I impart as their father. Some will be from my successes, and I’m sure a lot will be from my failures. Money can be lost in the flow of life, but the lessons we leave can endure for generations. Leading by action over words is key.
A vital part of legacy is to make sure you don’t depart this life laden with unfinished business. A legacy of no funeral arrangements, no will, masses of debt, and no insurance is not what you want your descendants to inherit (or blood-feuds started over who gets what and how much and who does what because you didn’t bother to plan it). Make your will and be sure to keep it updated. If you’re an adult, it’s never too early–especially when you have kids. Get life insurance. Take care of your own funeral or parts of it as soon as you can (or at least draft a plan for what you want to entrust to someone if you can’t afford it). Be financially responsible throughout your life. Even go so far as to consider writing an autobiography or some sort of manifesto. Never just have one copy and keep everything updated as you live your life. Be sure to have this in your will, and be sure to tell a couple trusted loved ones they exist just in case. A fireproof safe would be a good place for all the hard copies of what I call the Legacy Documents.
A wonderful exercise that I discovered over at The Art of Manliness (Brett McKay is a great man) is to imagine yourself at your own funeral. All those you love and care for are there. What would you want them to say? Consider your roles in life, like father, friend, brother, son. What kind of man do you want to be in each of these roles? Be honest with yourself and think about what they would say about the man you are right now. I bet there’s room for improvement.
For example, I know my wife would say that I was a passionate, driven, and ambitious man, but it sometimes prevented me from giving her the attention she deserves. I had a quick temper, strong opinions, and I sometimes worked 16 hour days without much of a break. I got anxiety when I didn’t think I’d done enough and that it made it hard to focus on just her. I could also be better father to my sons for the same reasons. Is that the legacy I want to leave? Absolutely not. I have a lot of work to do. Exercises like this help us see an honest portrayal of the men we are and figure out how to become the men we want to be. Do the hard thing and be honest with yourself.
Legacy is on purpose. Live with intention.