You Don’t Write Your Legacy
Legacy happens whether we want it or not: those who come after us will do the writing; the best we can do is provide the raw material for what that story will be. That’s what is so distressing about the recent college admissions bribery scandal: more than 750 families are implicated in a vast overreach to craft a false narrative and legacy of academic success. I actually worked for one of those charged, so this story really hits home. But it gets me thinking about what really drives us to be the best version of ourselves. In this sense, purpose serves as a precursor to our desired legacy. How we purposefully spend our time, treasure and talent – and its cumulative effect –forms our legacy.
Are you using your time, talents and treasures in a way that is consistent with the outcome you desire? If not, how can this be changed?
Planning a Legacy is a Relatively New Invention
The Age of Longevity allows us to plan in a way our forefathers could not. Frankly, for generations before us, success was simply furthering the human race. Now, many of us have the privilege to find the intersection of our talents and opportunities to make a living and an impact. It is the cumulative impact of our decisions that help create our legacies. Purpose drives it.
Common Areas of Legacy
The domains of legacy are boundless, but family is often cited. This helps explain the investment parents and grandparents make in their progeny. Barry, one of our close family friends, has been the baseball coach of his grandson’s teams from t-ball through preteen years. This investment has rewarded them with an especially close relationship.
For others, it may be youth in general. Harvard’s Robert Putnam wrote Our Kids as an opportunity and need for more people to see their kids as their bloodline but also those in the greater community. Marc Freedman of Encore.org has answered this call with the launch of Gen2Gen and his new book, How to Live Forever, a book about creating legacy through enriching younger generations.
Creating Legacy is Open to All Ages
While legacy may be discussed more often among older people, focus on creating a legacy is independent of age. I have seen this first-hand getting to know some of my peers as part of the Encore Public Voices Fellowship:
- Joy Zhang, a Millennial, is passionate about intergenerational relationships and is currently helping to facilitate such connections around caregiving through her start up Mon Ami
- Karen Lincoln, a GenXer, is on track to create a legacy about elevating our awareness about the high incidences of dementia among the African American community and harnessing resources to combat it
- Mick Smyer, a baby boomer, has founded Graying Green, an effort to improve our environment by inspiring specific actions by people to help show they can make a difference
Role of Purpose in Health and Extended Longevity
It turns out having an articulated purpose greater than yourself is linked to a number of positive health outcomes and holds true for people across the lifespan.
“Having purpose is linked to a number of positive outcomes, including better sleep, fewer strokes and heart attacks, and a lower risk of dementia, disability and premature death,” notes Dr. Dhruv Khullar, a physician and researcher at the Weill Cornell Department of Healthcare Policy and Research.
Purpose can be elusive for older adults, but the impact can be significant. Older adults with purpose are more likely to invest in preventative care, such as cholesterol tests and cancer screenings, keeping them healthy longer. All in all, lifestyle effects, including the role of purpose, adds six to seven years from age 65 and four years added survival at age 85.
Tools Today and On The Horizon
Books abound on strategies to live a purposeful life. Even design thinking principles – in vogue in corporate innovation circles – are being applied to help make the most of life’s opportunities, as discussed in books like Designing Your Life (a previous SmartLiving 360 blog looked closer at the opportunity to design thinking for your life).
Associating with others who value purpose increases the odds you will prioritize purpose. In this sense, the power of place is significant. You can root yourself in places where purpose, including your type of purpose, is common.
Technology promises to help, too. Several years ago, AARP launched a set of ageless tools under the Life Reimagined brand to help people navigate the possibilities afforded with longer life, including harnessing purpose. Technology visionaries, like Bill Gates, see an emergence of technology tools in coming years to help us craft a meaningful life.
No matter your age, whether you’re a Millennial like Joy, a GenXer like Karen or Baby Boomer like Mick, finding a sense of purpose can help create a lasting legacy. And while none us us will write our legacy, there’s no harm in giving them some good stuff to work with.