How to Start Carving Out Your Unique Legacy
By Cheryl Harbour

Life, like a chunk of granite, only takes shape when you -- the artist of your life -- decide what to make of it. With many experiences and milestones already collected in your past, the New Year is a good time to take stock and see what shape your life and your legacy are taking.

Some people view their legacy as something material - a house they built by hand or a building they designed, a book they wrote, a major gift they gave or financial security they've achieved for their family. For others, it's accumulative: a long career at a business or university or in a specific field of endeavor where they will be remembered for changing the status quo. For still others, it's more personal and emotional - managing a family thru life's ups and downs or collecting wisdom and knowledge to be shared with future generations

A survey conducted by 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair explored how different people view “immortality.” Respondents were asked, “Which would you like most to be named after you?” Choices included a grandchild, a street in your hometown, and a pew in your church, a national holiday, or a rest stop along a highway. (Admittedly, not the only or even the best choices.) The most popular response – by far -- was a “grandchild.”

A legacy doesn’t just have to happen to you. You have choices about that, too, if you don’t wait too long to begin shaping it and defining it.

Here are some suggestions collected from experts about how to take stock of what matters most in your life and how to make sure others see it the same way.

To think through what makes you unique, try one of these exercises:

  1. Write the title and introduction of your (hypothetical) autobiography.
  2. Start a running list of your preferences in all categories you can think of: food, entertainment, politics, activities, friends, charitable causes. The list forms a composite profile of what makes you YOU.
  3. Write a new resume – but not just about the professional you. Include all the “roles” you’ve managed and mastered in your life.
  4. Prepare the eulogy you’d like to be delivered in celebration of your life.
  5. Interview yourself. Find an interview with a celebrity you think hits some important topics and ask yourself the same questions.
  6. When you’re clear about how you’d like your life to be interpreted, write it down. A letter to your children or best friend. A brief summary of your life story, complete with your life philosophy or lessons you’ve learned. Even your own obituary. This exercise serves a double purpose. Putting your legacy in writing and giving it to someone you trust, improves the likelihood that others will see you in that light, too.

(For a tongue-in-cheek look at leaving a legacy, you might enjoy this article in Vanity Fair: “Michael Kinsley Has Some Advice for Baby-Boomers Who’d Like to Be Remembered.”)



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