Being intentional about creating a positive legacy

Small family business and traditions: old grandpa with grandson in lute maker shop. The senior artisan teaches to the boy how to chisel wood to make a music instrument. The kid looks carefully at his work

Image: diego cervo/

Not to be morbid, but when you die you’ll leave a legacy of some kind. If you’re fortunate to have enough money you may be able to fund something that will help a whole lot of people way into the future. Your name may linger on in the venture or, perhaps, the building in which it’s housed.

For most of us, our legacy will be mostly unknown, except to our family and a few we may have impacted on the way.

Hugh Mackay, in The Good Life writes, ‘You don’t have to be rich to leave a positive legacy; you don’t have to be intelligent, famous, powerful or even particularly well organised, let alone happy. You need to treat people with kindness, compassion and respect, knowing they will have been enriched by their encounters with you.’

For those thinking about retirement, it’s worth considering what you want your legacy to be. To put it gently, you are approaching your last season. To put it not so gently, Grim Reaper will get you at some point.

However you want to picture it, now is a time to think about what we want to leave behind. How we want to be remembered. Sharing what we’ve learned. Working out how we want to help on the way.

Creating your legacy 

Here are some questions worth asking to help create your legacy:

Is there a family member you need to reconcile with? 

No family is perfect. As we get older and, hopefully, wiser it can be a time to mend fences and make things right—if possible. It’s good to leave behind a sense that you cared enough to make the effort. It may not work, but you have extended a hand of friendship. That’s a positive legacy.

People matter, particularly those closest to you. That’s the point.

Is there someone you could mentor?

Finding a younger person who you can mentor is rewarding on a number of levels. First, you’re sharing from your experience and knowledge. Second, you’re helping someone develop their potential. Third, you’re continuing to learn from your mentee’s experience and keeping up to speed with what’s happening in your field. Finally, your impact in your field continues into the next generation.

Is there a cause or project you want to support?

You can aid the fight against a form of cancer, for instance. Perhaps this support is with funds, or with time on a fundraising committee, or volunteering at a local hospital.

Your interests may be with the local Under 15 football club. Or you may want to work with Lifeline. Or, perhaps it’s in the local Men’s Shed.

There is a whole range of projects you could become involved in that help people. I have friends, a husband and wife team, who often fly out to Pacific Island countries to do humanitarian work. It’s surprising what they’ve been able to achieve over the years. Currently, they’re working on building an orphanage.

Is there a cause you can support?

What skills do you have to help a worthwhile venture?

There are always worthwhile groups that need the skills of managers and accountants. They may also need builders and mechanics. Or they could use labourers who understand how to get things done.

Most worthwhile projects need people who are there to help. Often no skills are needed, just people to lend a hand.

How do you treat people?

I’m drawn to Mackay’s comment about creating a legacy: ‘You need to treat people with kindness, compassion and respect, knowing they will have been enriched by their encounters with you.’

That’s about it, really.

Being intentional

Some suggest that it’s helpful to think about what you want people to say at your funeral, but that’s not a good reason to build your legacy. The better reason is to do something that is both life enhancing for others—and for you.

The best way to build a legacy is to be deliberate about doing something that’s meaningful. If you’re doing something worthwhile, your legacy will take care of itself.

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

Category: Emotional Health, Legacy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Retire Notes