What’s Your Legacy?

The theme for January has been goal-setting. As I sat down to write this blog post, I received news that a family member had passed away earlier in the day, and was asked to write her obituary.

I’ve never written an obituary before. When I mentioned this to a colleague, he pointed out that writing your own obituary is an exercise often included in workshops for writing a personal mission and vision statement (apparently the career search has applicable lessons for every part of our lives….).

“While we cannot fully control our legacy and how we are remembered, we are more likely to achieve the desired results if we seek them, than if we move through life without direction or purpose.   That is, if we want some hope of being remembered in certain ways, then these memories are more likely to occur if we plan for them, than if we just think about them and do nothing.” (From Legacy of Life).

Sounds a lot like goal-setting for your career!

  • Consider what you want as your legacy. This is key: you only have to be what you want. This is not about anybody else’s expectations. Do you want to be remembered for your sense of humor? Your contributions to your community? As a loving spouse/parent/sibling? As a professionally accomplished person? Your creativity?
  • Write it down. You’re more likely to focus on things that are concrete and specific, and act of writing something down can help improve your awareness of it in everyday life. It helps you focus on the reasons why this is important and what it looks like to you.
  • Identify your obstacles. What prevents you from acting with kindness? When does your sense of humor fail you? What holds you back from engaging in your community? Are different parts of your legacy in conflict with each other? Identifying obstacles and areas of conflict is a key step in resolving them.
  • Be realistic. Are your expectations of yourself realistic and achievable? Can you feel good about living up to your legacy, or have you set the threshold so high that you’ll constantly feel that you’re reaching for something unobtainable? This isn’t a time for lofty goals that will impress others – this is about the things that matter most to your heart. Be gentle with yourself.
  • Review your legacy periodically. On a regular basis, are you living in accordance with the legacy you wish for yourself? If not – endeavor to do your best. Forgive yourself for your shortcomings. Whether you wish to be known for kindness or compassion or understanding or humor or resourcefulness or any other quality, start with demonstrating that quality to yourself. You may be surprised to find that people remember more about your persistent effort than they remember about your success.

Now that you have a clear idea of the long-term outcomes you want for your life, consider how the smaller goals you’ve set for yourself contribute to this legacy. You can choose to live a life – and fashion a career – that you can look back and feel good about. It’s a well-known adage that “Nobody wishes on his deathbed that he’d spent more time at the office.” What will you leave behind?

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