5 ways to build your legacy in hearts, not stone

Portrait of beautiful multi generations Asian family at nature park. Grandmother and granddaughter having fun at outdoor. Morning sun flare background.

Image: szefei/Bigstock.com

The bad news is that a legacy is what you leave behind when you die. The good news is that your legacy is something that lives on after you’re gone.

Your will is a written legacy, but here I want to consider the legacy we build with people. Shannon L Adler put it this way: ‘Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you’.

The question for us in the retirement zone—facing retirement or in it—is, how can we carve our name on hearts? It starts with family.

1. Building the family connection

If you have children, they’re already part of your legacy. You hope they’ll live on long after you. And your DNA continues in some way in them and their children and their children and . . . and so on.

The members of your family are probably the closest to you. They know you best—the good and bad. They’ll have learned by how you live your life. How you handled hard times. Holidays with you. The everyday with you. They learn from you—that’s a legacy.

If you’re in the retirement zone, your children are probably adults or close to it. The best way to build on your legacy now is to keep in touch and take the time to be with them.

I have a friend who regularly goes out with his grandson (in his early 20s). I envy him having his grandchildren close enough to do that. He’s building memories and sharing interests—and is a listening ear. His legacy will live on in that grandson.

2. Share your family history 

Tell the stories. About your childhood, about your parents and grandparents. The family tree always has some nuts in it, but their stories need to be told because they add colour to the family history.

Why not write some of those stories down to be passed on? Or create a photo book with notes about who is who and some of the stories from your forebears. That could be a family legacy that’s passed on for more generations.

3. How you treat people in your workplace

It’s easy in the workplace to take people for granted. You’re all there to get the work done. It’s a task. Some will enjoy it, others not so much. And, unless you’re the boss, you won’t get to choose who you work with.

Ken comes to mind. An older guy, he used to come and empty the bin in my office where I worked. You could hear him coming down the hallway—whistling. He was always upbeat. He always had something to positive to say.

His legacy? He modelled positivity.

4. Your social relationships

Linda Falconer says, ‘The people that you miss the most after they die are the ones that gave you the most … You can give love, respect, kindness, and even friendship! Just be generous in what you give and have a big heart’!

There’s no better way to be remembered than as a person with a big heart among your social network. There’s warmth in the thought.

5. Your community involvement

I remember attended the funeral of a neighbour where there was standing room only inside the funeral chapel. Leo had been sick for several years before his death and had few visitors, but he had impacted on many people, particularly as a soccer coach.

At the funeral, I discovered he’d coached a youth team that won the Asian championship in Fiji one year. In teaching them about commitment and how to play the game—and life—he left a legacy that continues.

Back to us

Our legacy is in our hands. What do we want it to be? What impact do we want to make on people in our lives? How do we want to be remembered?

‘We’re all made of stories,’ says author Charles de Lint, ‘When they finally put us underground, the stories are what will go on’. Until then, we can be deliberate in forming those stories and, as we do, be creating our legacy.

Bruce Manners: the author of Retirement Ready?, Refusing to Retire, and founder of RetireNotes.com

Category: Connecting, Legacy, Purpose

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