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Life, Death, and the Legacy You Leave Behind

life, death, and your legacy

I have just returned from a memorial service for a dear friend who passed away just before the weekend. Have you ever noticed how much the death of someone close gets you thinking about your own life and legacy? I think it’s good to reflect on how our own life is going, and consider where we are, and where we are headed.

As I looked around the room at all the people who came to honor this amazing lady, I thought about how her accomplishments added genuine value to the lives of so many. There was about a hundred people there, and she had touched the heart of each of them in some way. Isn’t that a wonderful testimony to a life lived well? What a great legacy she made for herself.

Don’t we all want a legacy like that?

I actually found myself asking: “If my life ended right now, how would I be remembered and what would my legacy be?” What would people say about my life and death? What would they remember about my personality, accomplishments, reputation, or my contribution? Would they feel better for having knowing me? Would my legacy bring a smile to their faces?

Does that seem like a weird thing to think about? I believe that this kind of thinking has value, and here’s why.

If you don’t like the answers, you can still change them!

You see, once death enters the picture, it is too late to do anything about how we will be remembered. But we’re not gone, and we can still choose what kind of lasting impression we make on the people in our life.

Never, ever, feel helpless when it comes to changing the way others perceive you, or your perception of yourself. You can become whoever you want to become, once you make a decision to change. You can write your own legacy.

Most of our limits exist only in our head

A friend of mine likes to say “Cut loose your full potential on the world and see what happens.” What do you think would happen if you actually did that? Do you think it would change people’s perception of you? Do you think it would change your legacy and reputation? Would it alter your list of accomplishments? Absolutely!

It would also completely change the way you see yourself, your sense of personal identity. This is because your true self knows what you are capable of, and longs to unleash the power necessary to achieve your goals and dreams.

So what it comes down to is this: Do you want to use your life to be the best you can be, or are you willing to settle for some watered down version of yourself? If you said “the best you can be,” then you need to come up with a plan to make it happen.

Here’s a little exercise to help you find direction.

Write the Book of You

Sit down with pen and paper, and briefly recount all the high points of your life that brought you to where you are today. Now fill in the rest of the story exactly the way you want it to turn out. Write in the first person as if it had already happened and you’re doing a biography of your own life.

Make it vivid by including the details and feelings for each of your accomplishments and experiences. Don’t impose limits on yourself. Write the story of how you unleashed your full potential to create an amazing life and left behind an amazing legacy. Get fully involved in the story and let it reflect the incredible joy and satisfaction of a truly rewarding life experience.

After your death what will your legacy will be ?

If you do the exercise, I guarantee you will be inspired, but then what? Obviously, inspiration needs to be acted on or nothing will change. You can only look back on those accomplishments if you go after them now. You can only build that legacy if you start working on it now. That’s  because this is your life and your opportunity. It’s up to you what you leave behind.

The truth is, you will be remembered the same way you lived. So the real question is, how will you choose to live? It’s a decision that only you can make and the sooner you make it, the sooner your life goes from ordinary to extraordinary.

How do you want to be remembered?
What kind of legacy are you going to leave behind?
The lines are open!

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23 Comments

  1. Stephen March 3, 2009 Reply

    This was fantastic. I recently starting thinking along the same lines. This was the inspiration for my deep deathbed thoughts. I think it is a good way to motivate yourself because by the time reality hits you, it is too late. Here is what I said for #6:

    Lying on my death bed, I’ll be very content knowing that I made a difference in the world and that there is a part of me, however small, left there for others. Will you?

    • Jonathan August 16, 2011 Reply

      Hey Stephen, I know some people avoid thinking along those lines, but the only opportunity to make a difference is now. As you said “by the time reality hits you, it is too late.” The older we get the more we tend to contemplate our own mortality when someone we know checks out.

  2. Mike King March 4, 2009 Reply

    Thanks for the link love Jonathan! This life examination is something that can help to motivate us to get those dreams onto our soon to do lists. Make life more about the now and don’t miss out on it. Sometimes those tough questions thinking of your last days of life are exactly what keep us living for what matters doesn’t it!

    You keep on writing quality articles and I especially love this particular topic, there is always so much to explore on it!

    • Jonathan August 16, 2011 Reply

      Hi Mike, I think it’s when we have the courage to ask the tough questions that we get a good look at the meaningful answers.

  3. Nathalie March 4, 2009 Reply

    Most of my focus on personal development came after some of my family members passed away. It has such a deep impact on us, and truthfully we wouldn’t be who we are if it weren’t for these traumatic events in our life.

    I started changing my eating habits, and really taking a look at my day to day life. I think you’re right, if we don’t like what we have so far – we have the power to change it!

    What an inspiring way to live?

    • Jonathan August 16, 2011 Reply

      Hi Nathalie, when you respond to a tragic situation by taking positive action then you have actually turned that event into something valuable. Some times we need a good shaking emotionally to get us to pay attention and make the needed changes.

  4. Farnoosh August 21, 2010 Reply

    Jonathan, you will be remembered – even though you shall be around well into your golden years – as a dear person who shared his fantastic life skills from the heart with the world – and that is from a person who has never met you. Thank you for a very deep post and of course I will still escape from thinking about the end of our own life as much as we can help it but when I do, I will remember your words here. Thank you.

    • Robin Easton August 22, 2010 Reply

      I totally agree with Farnoosh. You are the sort of human being who will always be remembered. You are caring, filled with integrity and above all you are deeply kind. People don’t forget that.

      PS: Plus you are adventurous and love life.

    • Jonathan August 17, 2011 Reply

      Hi Farnoosh and Robin, thank you both for your exceptional kindness and your wonderful example. I’ll admit that it seems very foreign to think that life has an end, but when we see it happen to someone we know it certainly gives us something to think about. I say life it to the full while you can!

  5. Robin Easton August 22, 2010 Reply

    I just love this Jonathan! It’s one of your very best!! :)

    • Jonathan August 18, 2011 Reply

      Thanks Robin, I really appreciate that you contemplate this sort of thing and as a result, you have a great perspective on life, death, and everything in between.

  6. Steve August 23, 2010 Reply

    Jonathan, what a great article. I saw a quote recently, “It’s never too late to become who you wish you had been.” In reverse, it’s never too late to become who we want to be. Writing a book is a great idea! The key is to prioritize the time to make it happen.

    • Jonathan August 18, 2011 Reply

      Hi Steve, the whole concept that it is too late for (you name it) is such a defeatist point of view. As long as we are breathing it’s not too late!

  7. David Stevens August 16, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,
    We shouldn’t need the death of someone close to make us “start to live”. Though it certainly brings our own mortality to the fore. We need to constantly prompt ourselves to live every moment to the max. Thank you &
    be good to yourself
    David

    • Jonathan August 16, 2011 Reply

      I agree David, we shouldn’t need those traumatic wake up calls. But even if we are mindful of living life to the full, thinking about our own mortality can prompt us to check in with our priorities and see if we need a little tune up. It’s amazing how fast life goes by!

  8. Nancy August 16, 2011 Reply

    Socrates stated, “a life unexamined is not worth living”…..

    Love your post and the thought process that we come to in examining our life. I know that you have touched many lives Jonathan and continue to do so – KUDOS to you! I also know that I have touched a life or two and continue to live in a way that is in TRUTH to who I am and who I want to be as a person and reflect on my LEGACY!

    MakeGirlfriends.com is an outlet of inspiration to women and so many others…..

    In gratitude,
    Nancy

    • Jonathan August 16, 2011 Reply

      What a kind thing to say Nancy, I can’t really put my appreciation into words. You have been such a great support and encouragement both here and on your own blog. It is so amazing to be able to share with such a positive group. Many thanks!

  9. Scott August 17, 2011 Reply

    I had a little different reaction when a family friend, just a couple of years older than me, died of a heart attack.

    I’m actually pretty happy with what I’ve accomplished and how I would be remembered. What I’m concerned about is that being later rather than sooner!

    If you’re not having heart problems or other severe health issues, it can be very difficult to think of your health as a life-or-death situation, but it is. That’s not a call to live in fear, but to live in choice — to choose, every day, moment to moment, to do the things that will, most likely, allow you to enjoy this wonderful life a little bit longer.

    • Jonathan August 18, 2011 Reply

      Excellent point Scott, all too often people take their health for granted until it is too late. Our quality of life is a reflection of our daily rituals. If those rituals don’t support a healthy mind and body it will catch up with us sooner or later. Our health is our personal responsibility.

  10. Angus August 17, 2011 Reply

    Hey Jonathan…

    I love the ‘Write the Book of You’ idea… it’s like a positive self fulfilling prophecy exercise!

    It’s always of benefit to revisit your previous accomplishments, focusing on your highs. I feel it’s also beneficial revisiting times when you may have gotten things wrong (the lows), for some valuable hindsight inspiration!

    As for how we’re remembered, I think if we have positively affected at least ONE person in life, we have made a difference… but there’s nothing wrong with setting your sights much higher and positively affecting as many people as possible… Aim High! :)

    • Jonathan August 18, 2011 Reply

      Hey Angus, you made an excellent point here: I think if we have positively affected at least ONE person in life, we have made a difference. That is such a healthy perspective. Thanks!

  11. Debbie August 19, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,

    Hey, writing a book sounds like a wonderful idea. Great way of really taking a look at ones self.
    My goal is just keep planting seeds of love and positive motivation and hoping that some of the take root and grow.

    You made me stop and think about all the wonderful friends we are making on the internet. Now is this is a question. If something happened to one of us, what should we do. I believe that everyone should get together and republish one of there favor post.

    When i was a freshman in high school (and i went to a very small high school) I had a class mate and friend that just dropped dead on day. I still remember the fun and laughter he put into everyones life. I want people to see me that way, full of fun, laughter a sense of humor,loving and caring.
    Guess i better let you go and go plant some more seeds. LOL
    Blessing to you,
    Debbie

    • Jonathan August 24, 2011 Reply

      Hi Debbie, I think it is part of human nature to remember the joy that others brought into our lives if we should lose them along the way. That was a really nice thought about republishing a favorite post.

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