Wednesday, March 30, 2011

AFTER I'M GONE – Leaving a Legacy

Many of us Baby Boomers are feeling things we've never felt before. But I'll leave confusion, forgetfulness and pain for future posts.

It's the concern that I might move on from this place without anyone knowing who I really was.

Seriously, what I'm talking about is the way I and many of my friends are starting to reflect on our lives and their meaning. Have I created anything of value? Have I done anything to make the world a better place? Have I loved well and been loved?

One undeniable aspect of this reflection—at least for me–is the concern that I might move on from this place without anyone knowing who I really was. I don't mean who someone else thinks I am, but who I think I am.

We all acquire certain "reps" and "raps" throughout life as we find our places in our families, communities and circles of friends. Some of these characterizations are misplaced, and they can be harder to shake than a dog on your leg. In fact, they can be so persistent that we come to believe them ourselves.

I suppose you could say I want my legacy to refute all those charges. It's not that I couldn't understand a spreadsheet or a contract; I just didn't care about them. I wasn't undisciplined, just spontaneous. Insecure? Well maybe unassuming.

It feels like I need to start, if not remodeling, at least tidying up that space I call legacy for those who may visit after I'm gone.

But the fact is, there's nothing we can do about those bum raps; they're often less about our true identity, than the need others have to categorize us—usually to the benefit of their own image. Ultimately, all we can do is be true to our own moral compass and responsible for our own choices.

Perhaps the greatest, most meaningful legacy one can leave is manifest in one's children. If they grow up to be decent, caring, contributing citizens of this world and, in turn, pass their best genes and values on to future generations, that's a pretty amazing gift, isn't it? Given a few setbacks and strokes of pure luck along the way, I feel I've done that.

But there's clearly a more selfish angle to my growing preoccupation with legacy. What I'm realizing is that more important to me than my grandchildren looking, thinking or acting like me is that they be proud of me.

Could that be why I'm feeling this sense of urgency, this inkling that, after a lifetime as the perpetual liberal arts undergraduate dabbling in this and that, it's time to finally choose what I want to be when I grow up? It feels like I need to start, if not remodeling, at least tidying up that space I call legacy for those who may visit after I'm gone.

Maybe this is why I've been able to move so seamlessly from a career as a graphic designer and marketing guy to life as a writer. Of all of the clever concepts and the thousands of little designs and copy blocks I've created for clients, few will ever be seen again after a year or two. All this work, while immensely satisfying most of the time, was professional, not personal. I think this is why my current writing, especially One Man's Wonder and the book I'm working on, feels so important to me.

It's about my occasional conversations with elusive truths about peace, love and happiness.

This work is not just by me, it's of me. It's drawing not just on my knowledge or experience but on my spirit. It's about how I've tried to tread on this earth, taking less than I've given. It's about trying to be fully present with everyone and every thing, always expecting the best, and seeing generously. It's about the curiosity, wonder and gratitude that color everything I see and do. And it's about my occasional conversations with elusive truths about peace, love and happiness.

These, I now understand, are the things for which I want to be remembered.


meg said...

Jeff, thank you for this post, which so beautifully articulates my own aspirations--to matter, to make a difference, to feel I have something to offer, to share my own epiphanies, many of which came at a cost and later in life than I would have liked, which has only served to exacerbate the urgency I feel to create and connect. Part of my journey in this regard is learning to trust that whatever I have to offer will find its way into the hands and hearts of whomever it will resonate with...and THAT is the hard part, for me! : ) In any event, with this post you give voice to another "kind" of "wonder" that is equally on the minds of so many of us...and I am grateful we have crossed paths and I feel I have found a kindred spirit!

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks Meg, for those kind words. I know you're exploring many of these life passages too -- it's so fun to share parts of the trip with you, my friend.
I love your trust that just doing your best will unerringly find its way to those it will be most moved by it!

ZihuaRob said...

I believe this is not something everyone feels the same about. In varying degrees people seek the spotlight and recognition and leaving a legacy. Since I've always been a person who enjoyed my anonymity and keeping my private life private, I don't place the same importance on having a legacy as much as others might. Instead, I have always preferred making my positive contributions from behind the scenes, like being the germ of an idea, or an invisible helping hand, or an anonymous benefactor. I'd prfer my influence be felt now like the ripples of a wave instead of hoping they'll influence someone in the future. Now is my heaven. Now is a simpler time. The future can only be more chaotic, and more influenced by events over which I'll have no role to play. That is for the generations of those times to come. So for me I cherish the influence I can have now more than any influence I might have as a memory in the future.

They mostly say the same things at funerals no matter what our true legacy may be. ;~)

Anonymous said...

I sincerely doubt anyone will ever 'know' me for who I am, or as I see myself, as that vision has been an evolutionary thing and something I am always getting aquainted with myself. As you do, I feel my son is my legacy, much as my mother and father have lived on in me: in my values, my preferences, my appreciation for life, people and the world. It has always amazed me how simple acts of kindness, and especially random acts of kindness, have made such a significant impact on me. My hope is that I have managed, and will continue to manage, to 'pay it forward'. I also know that in our lifetimes, we are many things to many different people, as we are to ourselves as well. So, if everyone remembers just one specific bright, beautiful or kind thing about me when I'm gone, I will be content and feel that is legacy enough.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Señor Rob -- I'm honored to have you visit my humble site!
I couldn't agree with you more about the only thing really mattering being the here and now! I'm afraid I didn't do a very good job of articulating my thoughts, because I don't really think legacy is about the future. In fact, I have very little interest in either it or the past. Still, what you refer to as your "ripples" keep rolling after we're gone, and I just as soon they be (to follow the metaphor) big enough to move the water, but not so rough that they make people seasick. ¿Si me explico? I know you want your beautiful daughter be proud of you -- not just now, but forever.

Jeffrey Willius said...

To Anonymous -- Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I like what you say about your life being an ongoing learning/evolving thing. It's curious to me -- as I said in my reply to ZihuaRob -- how, even if we try to live very much in the present moment, we still honor the gifts our parents passed on to us and hope to pay them forward to our kids.
I appreciate your contribution to the dialog -- you've got me thinking again...

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