"Legacy is as public as an architectural monument and as private as a letter written to children or grandchildren. It’s as tangible as a bank check and as intangible as a seemingly casual word of advice. And it’s as life enhancing as the Hemlich maneuver and as life denying as the Holocaust.” says Meg Newhouse, PhD.
My interest is in our personal legacy; in the passion, purpose and commitment that creates an indelible mark on the human landscape when we are no longer here to be part of it. It takes courage and kindness, dedication and fortitude to make that reach that will make a difference. Most people are not born famous and then leave a legacy; they become famous after they achieved success in their world of change. Clara Barton (formed the American Red Cross), Mother Teresa (advocate for the poor and helpless), Jonas Salk (developed Polio vaccine), and Christiaan Barnard (engineered the first heart transplant) all believed that healing others was their mission. They were dedicated to their work and as a result have helped people all over the world in perpetuity.
Here are some more current examples of legacies:
Social entrepreneur and author, Marc Freedman established Civic Ventures to support social change by recognizing the experience of older adults and encouraging personal and professional renewal. Under civic ventures, multiple programs are offered including The Purpose Prize which awards individuals age 60 and over for social innovation and their approach to solving some of the world’s biggest problems. The “experience dividend” has propelled many to create “greater good in the second half of life”
Dr. Gene Cohen, MD, PhD passed away in 2009 but his legacy in the world of creativity and aging was enormous. He was the leading professional to offer research studies and writings (books include The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain and The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life) that fully supported the premise of positive aging as a result of a creative lifestyle. His groundbreaking studies have built a nationwide movement that owes its presence and strength to his work.
Alexandra Scott, born in 1992, was one year old when she was diagnosed with cancer. Unable to conquer the disease, Alex wanted a lemonade stand so she could make money to help fund a cure. Although she passed away at the age of 8, her legacy has encouraged products and events that have raised many millions of dollars for research. Her 3 brothers continue her work through their commitment to her legacy with Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation.
J.A. and Geraldine Reynolds lost their son, Bruce, who was a patrolman for the Port Authority of New York on 9/11. He was an extraordinary charismatic person who loved to garden. Shortly after 9/11, the NYC Parks department delivered daffodils to plant in Reynolds’ community garden in New York City’s Isham Park. Now The Daffodil Project “is the largest volunteer, citizen-driven planting effort in New York City's history, with over 20,000 participants planting 2.5 million flowers since the Fall of 2001.“
Nancy Lublin started Dress for Success in 1996 with three nuns from Spanish Harlem and a $5,000 inheritance from her great-grandfather. Today this worldwide non-profit organization promotes "the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life." Through generous donations of clothes and accessories, financial contributions and paid staff and volunteers, Dress for Success has helped over 500,000 women.
Our lives are a blizzard of experiences and many responses are automatic. The phone rings and we pick it up, we drive the same route daily and never look at street names, and we’re moving from point A to point B and wondering where C is while preparing to get to point G. However what makes us unique and what makes living special is our intention to give meaning to our lives. People have all sorts of gifts and responses to the world around them. Some will leave creative products in art, music and writing as their legacy but most people will leave intangible legacies that are founded on direct social engagement. It can be volunteering at a soup kitchen or hospital, or working on fund raising campaigns for a favorite charity or rescuing stray dogs or cats to find them shelter. It can be helping neighbors or friends who are less fortunate or helping in a community center or school. Involvement can alter lives and begin a legacy. Fred Mandell, PhD, writer, artist and personal catalyst says “Doubt, frustration, and fear are part of life’s journey, but they are not as powerful as passion, commitment and purpose.”
For a legacy to be strong, your passion, purpose and commitment must be strong; waiting for tomorrow is not as effective as doing it today. The time is now to build your legacy so it will represent your life and your spirit of caring. Celebrate yourself. Celebrate your legacy.
"In the power to change yourself is the power to change the world around you."
- Anwar Sadat