Do We Choose Our Legacy?

James Anthony Ellis
Editor, Legacy Magazine 

I had an intriguing experience with my men’s team the other night.

I thought it to be a cool idea to pose a certain question to my teammates on our Zoom meeting: “What is your legacy?”

It’s the same question I posed on the MDI Facebook pages.

I figured our MDI men have already considered such a question, having as our organization’s backbone a training called “The Legacy Discovery.”

Isn’t that where we all discover our legacy? You know: what we wish to claim within ourselves in order to create something in the world to reveal our impact, leaving behind some sort of mark, some sort of influence, some sort of something that says our life goes on. Basically to prove to people and ourselves that “we were here.”

Well, the response was sort of a dud.

We had one response on the Facebook page. Thank you Bob Walker. “Two wonderful (no longer) kids… At least one grandchild…. Bringing the magic and helping where I can…” Awesome!

And in the meeting, a handful of men really didn’t have an answer to that question.

That’s when it hit me. Do we really even choose our legacy?

How could we choose our legacy if it’s established after we are gone? Unless we write it into our will or our living trust or have someone promise to carry something forward, our legacy starts when we stop. And when we stop, we’re done.

I imagine our true legacy shows up without a word. In the behaviors – good or bad – of those we’ve guided in some way, shape or form – be that a son, a daughter, a player we’ve coached, a T-ball batter, a Little Leaguer, a man we’ve lead on a men’s team, a person we’ve mentored in some way.

I imagine our true legacy arises in the stillness of the night, as those who have loved us, think of us and rekindle kind thoughts and gentle emotions – having these guide them throughout their days.

I imagine our true legacy comes to the forefront as people come and drink from a well, not even aware of he who helped build it.

And finally, I am imagining that the legacy is found in the eulogy, or those words of depth and insight as friends and family recall a life and recall a love.

Will we know what will be said about us? Will we know how we have impacted others? Will we know who drinks from the well?

Somewhat maybe, and mostly no.

How others use what we left behind will be up to them. Their choice. Their evaluation. Their implementation.

Our legacy, in this way, is mostly out of our control.

What is in our control is how we live our life now. Impeccable or sloppy? With integrity or dishonor? Doing our best or sliding by with less? What is in our control is our drive to express and create from the depth of our true nature, and see what unfolds in the unknown.

Here is where we can take a stand, and bring all we can to this world of ours.

And in that way – though it may be a forever mystery to us – we will be able to make a truly memorable mark in this world.

Get going. There may be work to do.

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James Anthony Ellis is an award-winning playwright, journalist and filmmaker, who is the author of eight books, including the men-focused “The Honor Book” available HERE.

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