Why Your Self Portrait is Not Your Legacy

If you are like most people, you live your life trying to exemplify the values that you want to present to the world and be remembered for when you are gone.  This is a noble act.

We all have a perception of ourselves, and everything we do we try to be consistent with that vision—our integrity, our energy, our performance, our giving to others. This leads us to keep an internal scorecard and wonder how we’re doing. Am I doing the right things? Am I doing enough?

Your own answers to these questions are your self portrait.  Would it surprise you to realize that this picture of yourself dissolves when you pass away?  What lives on is the portrait of you that remains in the hearts and minds of those people who are important to you.  This is your legacy.

Here is the challenge.  Many, if not most of us, wait until the people who have been important to us are gone.  Our snapshot of them is developed through conversations and eulogies about them spoken to others.  However, the person who deserves to hear it the most is no longer around.

Stories told, laughter shared, and challenges overcome all make up the mosaic of the people in our lives.  What better way to cherish this masterpiece than to share it with them while you are both alive and well.

By taking the opportunity to tell the most significant people in your life how they have impacted you, you give them the gift of knowing what their legacy will be in your eyes.

What’s the benefit of this act?  (Priceless!)  Not only do you have the peace of mind in knowing that there is nothing left unsaid, but you are also deepening the existing relationship.  What you will learn by having these conversations is that your impact on people is not about what it costs you in time, effort and thought, but it is really about the experience from their point of view. Furthermore, by learning about yourself you can increase your contribution to others going forward.

In Too Soon to Say Goodbye, Art Buchwald ended his book by explaining how he had planned his own memorial service down to the detail of asking eight friends to be his pallbearers.  He then wrote:

“Then I remembered if I died I couldn’t hear myself being eulogized, so I got the idea to print their eulogies at the end of my book.  Instead of being memorialized after my death, I get to read what they were going to say now.  It’s very rare that someone has the chance to hear his own eulogy.”

In a similar way, my long-term friends provided a mirror that helped me see who I was when I was a young adult and how I had formed as a person. Listening to the audio recordings of my gratitude conversations with them later on was like hearing an oral history of the highlights of my life so far. This was far more than an exercise in self-absorption.  Their pieces of input allowed me a unique opportunity to answer the question: Who am I? What an empowering gift! I never set out with an agenda of learning about myself; doing so was parenthetical and incidental, but not inconsequential.

Are you interested in helping your most cherish relationships see the mosaic of their lives through your eyes?  You have the distinctive opportunity to provide them with their legacy which will survive long after their self portrait.

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