If we look at everything in life that we consider great — people and ideas alike, all of them left a long-lasting legacy that still makes us say “wow!” to this day.
We all want to make a difference of our own. The big question is: how do we do it?
We have to understand that legacy, in its essence, is a construct humans invented and perfected in order to feel significant in a universe that physically dwarfs us.
Why do we care about legacy so much?
Because feelings are perceived as reality in the human mind, the concept of a legacy teases us with the idea of immortality. This is arguably our greatest aspiration. To leave something behind that lasts well beyond our physical form, propelling us into significance.
We cannot “prove” the meaning of life — we cannot calculate why we show up, catch feelings, have experiences, and then just …die — so we rationalize our presence in this world by developing a core commitment to things that can outlast us: religion, children, businesses, etc.
Life then becomes a series of contributions we make to these things in order to create the legacy that we so badly crave. We basically want to feel like we mattered. We use grand, selfless contributions to do so. And what is the essence of a grand, selfless contribution? Love.
What matters the most
During a recent business meeting, I said, “every one of you is here, ultimately, because you love someone.” Let us not forget that no matter what commitments we choose to fulfill our personal legacies, it is this selfless contribution of love that gives them meaning.
So smile at strangers, be kind to everyone, meet anger with compassion, give unconditionally, change people’s lives, and expect nothing in return. Live a life of love.
Build your legacy.
But as you do so, remember that the journey won’t always feel like love; happiness won’t always feel like it’s there.
I once used to find myself daydreaming of a life where happiness was a permanent state, only to have life teach me that this was not an ideal, but an illusion. I learned that there is no permanent state. Utopia is a lie. The ground beneath us will always shake. Always.
Unhappiness doesn’t ruin our lives, expecting permanence does
I learned that sometimes there is happiness, and sometimes there is sadness, and that’s just the way it is. And I learned that it’s not sadness that hurts us most… it’s clinging to either side. That’s what ruins our lives: expecting permanence.
We often use the idea of hope, perhaps of a “happier” future, to avoid looking at our scars, and in doing so, we deny ourselves the present moment. Every time we try to numb our pain, we miss out on being broken open to see what we’re made of.
We eat and drink and talk and work and exercise and write and read, and we tell ourselves we’re healing when all we’ve done is run away. After all, everything can be an escape if we try hard enough.
What we need is to sit with our fears, and our pain, and our scars. We need to let ourselves fall apart. I believe that’s the only way to live. Not in hope of tomorrow, or of “pulling yourself together,” but in the present moment, knowing that nothing is permanent. There is more beauty in those “my life is over” moments than we allow ourselves to see.
Yes, loss and rejection are terrifying and exhausting, but you’re not giving up. You’re ready. It’s time to stop running. It’s time to step into the storm. You’ll find calm in the center.