Will Your Work Leave a Legacy?
Will the work you do live on?
Whether you work for yourself, or work for someone else, today's question is the same.
Are you doing something with your life that will leave a mark? ... that will inspire stories between people you may never meet? ... that will continue to change lives long after you do it?
I could ask you - "What will your legacy be?"
But I think we all look at that question and feel daunted, maybe even disconnected. Who am I to have a legacy? I'm not some kind of nobility, or super important person.
Today, in honor of my mother, I want to share with you why I think legacy is so important, so achievable for anyone (through work or volunteering), and what it's meant to my own life.
A Bit of Background
My mom, Barbara
This story is inspired by my mother, Barbara. She passed away unexpectedly in 2003 from a pulmonary embolism.
Four years ago, I started celebrating today - her birthday (August 17) - as "Barbara Day" - a holiday to honor her. Hosting this has led to so many wonderful experiences and in many ways, new memories of her for me and the people who loved her too.
You can read more about past Barbara Days on my personal blog here.
My mom was a calligrapher and sold stationery under a business called "You're Invited" for many years where I grew up in Fayetteville, NC.
The Legacy She Never Knew
Legacy is a fancy word for impact. Legacy is the ways in which the things you do now, what you create, what you share with others, and how you help others will go on to affect more lives - far beyond your original intent.
I feel like what I've learned about legacy, I learned from the experiences that have happened to me after my mother was gone.
The Stories and the Relationships That Happen
Across the years, so many people have told me stories about her and how the things she did for them stuck with them. "Your mom did my wedding invitations." "Your mom did all of my daughter's calligraphy! Everyone loved it! It was so special!"
Just this past week, I got an inquiry for my wedding services from a bride I went to high school with. She included this story along with her email to me --
"My parents have a wall in their house devoted to wedding portraits of all of the members of my family tree, branching out from my parents all the way to my great great grandparents. My two brothers and their wives are up there too, and I'll be up there soon! Underneath every portrait are the names of the couple and the date of their marriage, written in beautiful calligraphy, by your mother, I believe!
After I contacted you, for some reason I thought about the writing (possibly after looking at your website) and it reminded me. I checked with my father and he confirmed. I don't know how he found your mom to do the writing (maybe an Academy connection?) but I thought you'd like to hear that her writing is still proudly displayed in our living room!"
I got this and thought - wow - life is a funny thing. My mother may never have imagined all the stories that have happened that brought this note into my inbox. It's quite possible I'll help this bride by emulating my mother's calligraphy so she can continue this tradition in her parents' house.
An Unlikely Legacy
I don't think my mother thought her work would necessarily live on the way it has. But I think her story is so resonant because it's like all of us. My mom wasn't famous. She was a small business owner and someone who liked to help people by creating beautiful things.
People threw away envelopes with her calligraphy on them, just as we all might throw out that wedding invitation we got in the mail.
But the work she did, the care she put in them, the very genuine intentions behind it all, somehow - even across time - it stuck with people. It lives on.
What Would It Take For You To Leave a Legacy?
Lin-Manuel Miranda (yes, I know I've shared about him before... can't help it, he's pretty awesome for business inspiration) writes a lyric in Hamilton,
"What is a legacy? It's planting seeds in a garden you never get to see."
My mother epitomized this. But she didn't have to have a fancy job title, or super important clients. But she left a legacy. I've seen it so many times in the past 13 years. She had a bigger impact on far more lives than she would have ever considered. I'm continually amazed as her daughter to learn new stories as the years go by.
And that's the thing about the work you do. You get up every day and you invest yourself in something. You invest yourself in someone. I want you to know for a fact - that has rings - it has echoes - it does matter. So, do it on purpose.
The small projects you create, the products you sell, the meetings you run - I promise that you have no idea how that will ripple into others' lives and future generations.
I think we have no idea about this sometimes. We feel insignficant. We feel like we aren't creating meaning. But the thing is, if you're committing your passion to your purpose (through a business, through your job, through volunteer work) you are already building legacy.
I guarantee you that more people read what you write than you realize (trust me, it shocks me all the time that it's not just my dad and cousin who read these articles). And more people are inspired and taking action because of you than you know. And there will be many more stories and ways in which you will have shaped people's lives. Some you will hear, and some you won't - but know that is the nature of doing good work in the world.
So I would encourage you to run your business, plan your career, or choose your volunteering opportunities with this kind of attention. Go live your life like you are building a legacy.
If you do that, maybe you'll make different decisions - better decisions - within your business or career, and by doing so, change even more lives.
I appreciate my mom and that lesson she has taught me, even in the years that she hasn't been here. I've seen why legacy is possible for any of us. For me, following in her footsteps, I know legacy is critical to what I do, as I continue her story and start telling new ones.
That's exactly why Greatest Story's name came from tremendous purpose and intention. It is about reminding us all, myself included, that life is truly the greatest story you get so you have to live it well - knowing you can and will impact other lives.
So - whatever you want your legacy to be, in Lin's words, let's start planting.
I shared some thoughts about Barbara Day on Facebook as well. Watch the video below.