I spend a great deal of time thinking about the impact of my life. I once had the very powerful experience of writing my own funeral eulogy as a coaching exercise and it was unforgettable. At first blush that may sound morose, but the point is to project what you would want people to say and feel about you, how you impacted their lives when you still had clay feet; and to let this be a governing light by which you can live your life now.
I’ve also heard it put another way, which is to write a 200-year life plan. Again, at first glance, this seems ridiculous; the vast majority of us don’t live to be 100, let alone 200 years old! But that is precisely the point—the impact of our lives reaches well beyond the limitation of our physical existence.
While it’s impossible to always live our lives congruently with our own long-term projection of ourselves, that doesn’t mean the projection (or plan) isn’t worth having. And having a plan certainly doesn’t alleviate our lives of friction and conflict. Actually, I’d suggest having a planned legacy might create more collisions, because when we’re working toward (or on) that which is part of our soul work, the obstacles are a necessary and essential part of the process. If it weren’t for the obstacles, we would have no milestones—nothing over which to triumphantly prevail!
I read this recently in an issue of Backpacker Magazine:
We make choices, and nearly all of us start out incubating some grand, youthful ambition. We want to write novels when we grow up, or scale unclimbed peaks. But then we do grow up and we become practical. We choose [paths] that are easier, more conventional. We limit our adventures to what fits in the vacation schedule. (Bill Donahue)
WTH? Personally, I can’t stand the idea of getting to the end of my life (whenever that may be), looking back and living with the realization that I didn’t do anything that mattered, that I didn’t make a difference in the people’s lives that intersected with mine, that I didn’t live my life authentically to the best of my ability, that I didn’t stretch myself beyond what I thought were my limits; that I lived a wasted life, squandered my gifts, skills, abilities and opportunities, and that the only legacy I might leave behind is bitter resentment and bad memories for all the things I could have done better or differently and instead chose only actions in service of myself and my own immediate gratification. Yuk!
This is not to say that I have the expectation I won’t ever violate these ideas in the course of my life, and it’s certainly not to say that I am above situational regrets or having to fight on the battleground of my own frailties and weaknesses; BUT it IS to say that somehow in the grand sum total of my life as I lived it, I want the fact that I had one to have made a difference! And the only way I know how to do that is to have spent some time purposefully contemplating what I want the end to look like, so that I have a guide for the middle.
Living a life guided by an intentional legacy is not an easy life , in fact, it may be harder. But it’s fuller and purposeful. And if my choices are to pay the day-to-day price of a purposeful life now or to live a careless, unguided one—well everything comes with a price and I’d rather pay the price daily than the balloon payment at the end!