When I was in my twenties, I heard a speaker discuss a great study that had been conducted. The results of the study continue to influence my life to this day. The study involved fifty people over the age of 90. They were all asked one question:
“If you had your life to do over again, what would you do differently?”
Wanting to know, I took out my pen and eagerly began writing, jotting down every word I heard the speaker say.
Three answers were prevalent among the study’s participants. None of which had to do with great personal accomplishments. What they were now considering at the end of their lives was something very different. If they had their lives to live again, they would:
- take more time to reflect
- take more risks
- leave something to be remembered by
Their responses are insightful when thinking about legacy and what is important to us. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines legacy as: something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past. So what can we learn from those who have gone before us?
Take Time to Reflect
Life is moving really fast for many leaders. Taking time out of our busy schedules long enough to reflect can be challenging. Yet, thinking about our values, aspirations, passions, and the people we lead and care about are very important when considering legacy. When I think about legacy, I envision what I can pass on that is of value to others.
If this is something that is important to you then schedule some time to contemplate your life. Begin by taking a mental inventory of your life. Some key domains to think about while contemplating legacy: relational, vocational, spiritual, and community.
Then ponder the following questions:
- If today were your last day on earth, would you be satisfied with the leadership legacy you are leaving behind? Be honest with yourself.
- Have you invested your time, energy and resources in the areas that matter most to you?
- Are you satisfied with what has transpired given your leadership role and the opportunities you have had?
- Are you content with the investment that you have made in the lives of people that you lead and those who matter most to you?
If you said “no” to any of these questions, what adjustments can you make? Write them down.
Take More Risks
Taking more risks in their lives topped the list for most. Chances are that if you are a leader, you have taken your share of risks. The more pertinent question regarding risks for you as a leader and your legacy might be: Are you taking the right risks? If you feel like there is more to your life than you are presently experiencing, then you may want to consider the following questions:
- Have you taken many noteworthy risks in your life and leadership or do you have a tendency to play it safe?
- Have the leadership risks you have taken moved you closer to your life, faith, or career goals or moved you further away?
- Have you taken more risks based on the expectations of your organization and other people or because you wanted to take them?
- Are the risks you are taking as a leader fueled more by courage or fear?
Leave Something to be Remembered by
A third predominant answer: If they had their lives to live over again they would leave something to be remembered by. This response directly speaks to life and leadership legacy. Think about some of the great leaders who have gone before. What is it about their life, leadership, and legacy that resonate with you? Now is the time to think about what is important to you.
- What do you want to pass on and leave behind when you are gone?
- How do you want others to remember you?
- If you have children, what will you leave behind in them? Will your life reflect a story they will want to tell their children?
- What are you passing on to the people in your organization or faith community?
- If you are married, what kind of spouse will you be remembered as?
- Will you leave behind a contribution that makes this world a better place?
- If faith is important to you what spiritual legacy will you leave behind?
You have the opportunity to impact generations to come with what you invest today. What are you doing today to ensure that you are leaving a legacy worth remembering? You hold the pen that is writing your life story; make it a good one.