Legacy: You matter. Do you know how?
The Merchant of Death is Dead
April 12, 1888 (Cannes, France) – Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday…
If this were your obituary, how would you feel?
Dr. Alfred Nobel felt a little bit horrified. Understandably. First, he was not dead. His brother, Ludvig, had just passed away in Cannes. Second, he had never seen himself through the lens of “merchant of death.” He was the inventor of dynamite, the manufacturer of canons and other armaments, an inventor with over 350 patents and amassed significant wealth in the process.
But “merchant of death”?
The result of reading what his obituary would look like given his current course and reputation led Alfred Nobel set up his finances to create the legacy we know him broadly for today – the acclaimed Nobel Prizes. A legacy that celebrates and supports innovation, invention and audacity.
Not all of us will get the chance to rewrite our obituaries. Most of don’t think about our legacy. I’m willing to bet most of you don’t even think that you have a legacy – we associate that term with grand wealth and grand ideas. But the reality is, that the mere fact that you exist is a legacy. You impact people daily – through your words, your gestures, your thoughts and actions. And you can’t always know the result of that interaction but you can know – and should know, and should own, your intent. And isn’t your intent your legacy?
“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’ve been through exercises where you’re asked to write your obituary. I won’t ask you to do that. That’s morbid. My intention is not to focus on my death. But I do intend to focus on life and the people I love. So instead, I ask you to consider what your legacy is?
Definition of Legacy
- A gift of property, especially personal property, as money, by will; a bequest.
- Anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor.
What is your gift to the world? It’s easy to claim the tangible – money, property, valuables – but that’s limiting to what we really offer as human beings. What are the gifts you share, daily, with the people around you? What values and ideas are you handing down to your family, friends, co-workers?
If thinking about your “legacy” sounds too grand or out-of-reach for you, then let’s shift to a word more ordinary. What are your core values? What are those ideas and themes that are central to who you are, what you believe and how you life? Perhaps this is a natural outcome of having kids who are growing up and into their own young adulthood – I am seeing reflected back at me the values I have tried to live by and share with them over the years. I watch them soar and struggle, race and muddle along their own journeys and I’m learning what their core values are. Which are different from mine? Where are we the same?
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you go through the exercise of identifying your core values. Because that is your true legacy – the core of who you are, how you show up every day in this world, is a direct reflection of your core values.
Whether you recognize it or not, you’re giving the world something. You are the gift. And if you aren’t clear on who you are – and you aren’t living your core values to the best of your ability – then you might very well be surprised by your obituary. And the saddest part about that is not that you’re dead, but that you never recognized your real gifts in the first place.