At some point in their lives most people ask themselves the following questions:
- Did I truly live?
- Did I love?
- And did I matter? Did I make a difference?
It’s a natural urge, hard-wired in all of us, to answer the question: what’s your legacy?
And it doesn’t matter how old you are. Young men and women may be driven as strongly to ask these questions as those of us in the final third of our lives.
Whatever your age, research tells us you should be trying to capture your thinking — for yourself and for your family and friends — in what my wife Jacqueline Moore and I are calling a Legacy Journal.
But why should you consider this?
WHY SHOULD YOU CAPTURE AND SHARE YOUR LEGACY?
Why capture and share your legacy?
Well first, because the time you have for creating and capturing your legacy is slipping away. So unless you prioritize creating and capturing your legacy, it won’t happen. We’ll say more on urgency in a moment.
But who specifically should be thinking of legacy?
Well, if you’ve reached retirement age, you can reflect on your life in a legacy journal, and preserve your experience and achievements for your family and friends.
And you can also plan everything you’re going to achieve in your no-doubt active retirement.
If you’re in your 40s or 50s, you have already achieved a good many things, but there’s still more you want to achieve.
With your Legacy Journal you can take stock, preserve your achievements for your family — even if they don’t want to listen now, they will one day.
And you can also plan the rest of your lifetime legacy. Or the years will slip through your fingers.
You’ve already noticed time is accelerating, haven’t you?
If you’re in your 20s or 30s, you’re still close to your childhood and teenage years, though they seem further and further away, don’t they?
So you can record your achievements and successes while they’re fresh in your mind. Capture your hopes and dreams for the future.
However old you are, take some time to plan your future legacy.
‘Isn’t talking about this stuff just bragging?’
The desire to create and capture your legacy in journal form is not an attempt to brag or show the world how wonderful you are. The desire to make sense of your life is entirely natural.
Erik Erikson, one of the most prominent researchers in the area of lifespan psychology, said in the 1970s that the turmoil of deciding ‘who you are’ continues through adulthood even into old age.
No wonder that psychologists in this century are beginning to recognize that the urge to look back at our lives – and decide if they have been well ordered and meaningful or not – is a key stage in our personal lifecycle. This stage has come to be known as ‘legacy creating’ or ‘legacy building’.
Interestingly, the desire to pass on our life stories to the next generation is a fundamental part of legacy building.
You probably recognise this from your own experience. Older people often make an effort to provide an oral history or to explain family pictures and heirlooms to younger family members.
So sharing your successes and achievements is key to capturing and sharing your legacy. It’s perfectly natural.
‘What if I haven’t done very much with my life?’
Whatever your age now, you have already achieved so much in your life — even if you don’t think so. You are truly amazing.
And compiling a legacy journal is one way to bring it all back, to consciously and constructively reflect on your achievements.
For example, we often take our childhood achievements for granted. But when you pause to look at your life constructively, you realize that you have been crashing through milestones since your early childhood.
Every step along the way, you have been developing and growing, becoming the person you are today.
In fact you achieved SO much as a child you probably don’t remember the half of it.
- You became part of a family
- You went to school
- You formed friendships
- You started to develop interests and talents
- You learned new skills
- You discovered your dreams.
The achievements and the learning didn’t stop there
As a teenager, you joined clubs and societies, took part in sports, perhaps went into higher education, started your first job, or travelled.
As an adult, you progressed in your career, maybe you found a partner, you may have started a family, and you may have helped others less fortunate.
And all of this, everything you’ve done at every stage of your life,
has had an impact. Not only on you yourself, but on others, too.
And in this way, you’ve had an impact on the world.
Have you ever seen that film, It’s a Wonderful Life? Where an ‘everyman’ character — played by the American actor James Stewart – is given the chance to see what the world would have been like if he had never lived. That’s a brilliant way to think of the everyday achievements that we’ve all made.
And now you’ve decided it’s time for you to share the story of your achievements. It’s time for you to capture your story and to share your legacy.
But how? How can you capture and share your story?
HOW CAN YOU CAPTURE AND SHARE YOUR STORY?
Over the past five years we’ve done a good deal of research, looking at all the options for capturing your life story, the sum total of your achievements and activities, your successes and experiences.
Not surprisingly, we discovered that much of our legacy today is stored online or in the cloud — partly by design, but mostly by accident. That’s just the way it is now. We share so much of our daily lives through social media.
But in our view this situation is too ephemeral and fragile. All of our valuable documents and pictures can be deleted or lost with a single key stroke. An online or electronic solution for capturing your legacy is not wise.
So Steven and I decided that what you need is a specific legacy journal. You need something tangible, something real.
So the rest of this post is a roadmap to explain how to compile a legacy journal in a structured way.
HOW TO COMPILE A STRUCTURED LEGACY JOURNAL
Actually you can use any notebook for this. But to really inspire you, we’ve created the Legacy Journal, an elegant book that guides you naturally through the process, with headings and questions.
Whatever you choose to use, we recommend that you write your journal by hand. When family or friends read it in days and weeks to come, seeing your handwriting will create a precious, instant connection with you.
As well as taking you through the powerful process of recording your legacy, this roadmap will explain how writing your Legacy Journal is hugely beneficial. Not only for those who read your story, but also for you yourself.
And, of course, your story isn’t over. There’s so much more to come. So there should be space for that, too.
We will also explain how to plan your future achievements and how to live your life with legacy in mind.
First though, a kind of warning.
DON’T PUT OFF CAPTURING YOUR LEGACY STORY
It’s important not to put off writing your legacy journal. We hear far too often about people who didn’t get around to it — people who didn’t get a chance to tell their stories in their own words.
We’ll say it again. It’s never too early to start.
A colleague and friend of ours, Rami Makhzoumi, a highly successful businessman, full of plans for the future, suddenly passed away at the age of 33. We had the honor of writing his story in a biography, The CEO’s Journey.
Unfortunately, therefore, his story is in our words, not his.
So we don’t want to make a big thing of this, but don’t be tempted to delay. Because there are so many positive reasons why you should write a legacy journal. Let’s look at them now.
WHY SHOULD YOU WRITE A LEGACY JOURNAL NOW?
Here are the four main reasons you should write your Legacy Journal.
1) FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
Younger people are not always ready or willing to listen to older people’s stories. But one day they will be. They will want to know about your life — your successes and achievements and, above all, your stories. They will want to know what influenced and motivated you.
So it’s never too early to start writing your story in your own words. One day, the people you share your journal with will thank you.
2) TO CONNECT WITH OTHERS
When we read about other people’s stories, it’s as if a bridge is built between us, connecting our lives. By starting to write your story, you will give others a valuable insight into your life and thoughts.
3) TO INFORM
The pace of progress seems to increase rapidly every day. The way things are done changes, the way people live their lives changes, the very way people think changes.
By writing a legacy journal, you can write about how things were when you were younger and compare them with what they are like now. Your words will be invaluable to your readers in the future.
4) TO PASS ON YOUR WISDOM
Whatever your age, you have already accumulated a great deal of knowledge and wisdom. Your experiences are too precious to be lost. You can preserve and share them in your journal.
These are the main reasons why you should write a legacy journal. But there are other reasons, too.
Most important of all the reasons you might think of for writing a Legacy Journal: doing this is actually good for you.
WHY A LEGACY JOURNAL IS GOOD FOR YOU
Research shows there are great psychological and neurological benefits from exploring your own life story at a deeper level.
Now you may wonder how this could be. After all, many of us find it hard to talk about ourselves and our achievements. We don’t know what to say or how to say it. And we certainly don’t like to brag.
But writing a Legacy Journal is not about bragging. It’s about sharing the things in life that are worth doing and about remembering them.
Partly this is about positive reinforcement. The idea that ‘If I feel good about what I’ve done, I’ll be more likely to do more, and more different things, in the future.’
So let’s take this a step further and summarise the top 5 things crafting a Legacy Journal does for you.
5 REASONS WRITING A LEGACY JOURNAL IS GOOD FOR YOU
Over the past decade or so, neurologists have begun to explore the health benefits of positive reinforcement and how this affects our ability to achieve future success.
So here are the top five reasons researchers are beginning to support capturing your legacy as a valuable process:
1) SELF-ESTEEM AND WELL-BEING
Writing about past successes gives you a powerful sense of wellbeing and self-esteem.
You will go through a process of self-discovery. You will make connections you may not have seen before about how the events of your life helped you develop into the person you are today.
3) AN ACTIVE MIND
It keeps your mind active, purposeful and positive.
4) FINDING YOUR VOICE
It helps you find your own voice. By telling your story from your point of view, you take ownership of all the achievements that helped make you the person you are today.
5) SHOWING GRATITUDE
It allows you to show gratitude to the people who inspired you.
So we can see that it’s good for YOU.
Interestingly, it’s also good for your family.
This is because people who know their heritage and are familiar with their family stories tend to have higher self-esteem and to have more robust identities.
But more than this, it will inspire you, too.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE KNOWN FOR?
What we know is that revisiting your past achievements will inspire you to create your future achievements.
It will motivate you to ask these key questions:
- What do I want to be known and remembered for?
- And how will I make a difference to the world?
And these will comprise the main themes of the final part of your Legacy Journal: planning your future legacy.
It’s possible to prepare your own Legacy Journal with just a short amount of preparation — we’ll explain how that works right now.
I. PREPARE YOUR JOURNAL
A) CREATE THREE PARTS
Divide your notebook or journal into 3 roughly equal sections and label them:
- Part I: Personal Legacy
- Part II: Community Legacy (Can be professional or personal)
- Part III: Future Legacy
Some people ask us why not have three books, or write one section at a time and see how much space that takes?
Well, we’ve found that you may not compile your journal in a linear way, starting at the beginning and working your way through. It may come to you story by story, with one thing leading to another.
TRUST THE STRUCTURE, TRUST THE PROCESS
In addition, we’re forcing you to be selective, and to choose and prioritize some experiences and stories over others.
Doing this so you can ‘fit them into the journal’, tells you something about how important these events and stories are to you.
So trust the process. Compartmentalizing your thoughts IS very helpful — it begins to tease out the complex experiences you’ve had and helps you identify the specifics of your achievements to date.
By the way, you CAN always write more, add an appendix, or compile a second journal. It may become such an addictive experience for you that you choose to write an annual update.
In each of the three parts, now write a section heading at the top of each two-page spread.
The headings can be whatever you like. But our suggestions are here.
Part I: Personal Legacy
- Sports/Sports community
- Voluntary work
- Health and well-being
- Favorite things (eg book, film, meal and restaurant) and why
- Favorite pastime-related or hobby-related item (eg knitting pattern/football, or skill, or competitive event) and why
Part II: Community Legacy
Starting with your immediate family network now, expand your thinking to include the range of communities you are involved with. Now write the stories of how they came into your life and what happened for you then.
- Family or school community
- Local village or town community
- Work community (eg sports and social)
- Professional community (eg accountancy or teaching)
- Industry or sector community (eg facilities management or IT)
- National or world communities
- Post-work community
Part III: Living with Legacy In Mind
In the final section of your Legacy Journal you should answer the following questions, among others. This is where you will write the stories you want to be known for in the future.
What new communities do you want to explore or create?
What do you want to be known for?
With this section prepared, you can now move into the phase actually of capturing your stories.
With the structure of your journal in place you can now start to capture your stories.
Under each heading on each page, ask yourself: what are the stories that you recall, associated with each of the themes?
Try to capture stories about particular events rather than vague and abstract thoughts.
Prefer ‘One Thursday we went into the town and this happened, that happened…’ stories, rather than ‘I often enjoyed running at the gym…’ stories.
There is a place for ‘I enjoyed…’ stories but you need to share your reflections on why you enjoyed things, what you learned from them and what advice you would pass on to others (for example).
This will help guide your writing and help you think creatively.
II. COLLECT YOUR MEMENTOES
Now you have your journal structured, and you may even have some stories in the journal already, it’s time to search for or list your mementoes.
Mementoes are items that remind you of a certain time or place. They may be certificates or documents, they may be things that you made or created.
You may keep them around you, to remind you of key moments in your life, or they may be stored or kept safe. These are often of no financial value, but are of great sentimental value to you.
You might have kept ticket stubs or postcards to include, for example, or you may think of abstract mementoes such as smells or colours that always remind you of certain things.
The reason we suggest searching for mementoes is that sometimes you may struggle to write a story out of thin air. But a memento can sometimes bring the event, and the things that happened, flooding back.
Once you have your mementoes to hand, or your list of mementoes, you need to reflect on them systematically.
Here are a few questions to get you started.
- How much of your time went into making or acquiring this? Why do you think you spent so much time on it?
- Did you make or acquire this with a particular person in mind? What did you like best about the process of making/finding this piece?
- Did anyone help you make or get this piece? Who? How?
- Is there some aspect of this piece — a turn of phrase, a choice of colour, a shape — that is a particular point of pride for you?
- Thinking about your work accomplishments (from looking at documents to do with work), which of them looks most impressive on paper?
- Did you actually like this project, event or process? Explain.
Finally, you may want to back up your memories by talking to the people in your life, sharing their memories and enriching your stories.
So thinking about key times in your life, who were the people who were there with you?
If you can, take notes or record your conversations, so you can recall them later. (They will most likely be flattered you’d like to record the conversation.)
There are no hard and fast rules, but as soon as you decide to begin this process then concentrate on the elderly members of your family and community. They will give you insights into your early family and professional life and that may lead to new insights and new interviews.
Here are some questions to get you started with your interviews:
- I remember you were there when I …… What do you remember about that time?
- How would you have described me as (eg an adult, accountant, parent) to someone who hadn’t met me?
- What five words always seemed to crop up in our conversations back then? Why?
- Can you tell me what one life experience I referred to most often as an adult? Why do you think that is?
- Can you tell me what political issue, religious concern, or career challenge I’ve seemed most concerned about in my adult life? Why do you think that is?
- What is the one thing I’ve done as an adult that has most surprised you? Why?
You should have enough information to compile your own Legacy Journal and make a start on capturing your life and legacy.
Because there’s something else worth thinking about, too. The process of reminiscing and reflecting on your legacy is good for you.
Over the past decade or so, neurologists have begun to explore the health benefits of positive reinforcement and how this affects our ability to achieve future success.
So reflecting on your legacy and your achievements of the past can spark your creativity and help you achieve an even greater legacy in the future.
All that remains to say is jump in.
The water’s fine.
YOUR LEGACY JOURNAL
If you like the sound of getting started right away, then get in touch and we’ll hook you up with a copy of our Legacy Journal.
It contains all these sections and questions, and many more, to help you capture your life and achievements.