“It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something… Each of our acts makes a statement as to our purpose.” ― Leo Buscaglia

I was nearing the end of high school when I first listened to the teachings of prof. Leo Buscaglia. He made a significant contribution to my self-leadership journey and since that day in 1987, I have increasingly grappled with this question – What would the legacy be that I leave behind one day? We all have fears and one of my biggest fears is that, whenever I change my address from this life to the next, that my legacy would not be what it could have been. Leo said something else that made a profound impact on my life: “Don’t let God come back to earth and ask: ‘I have given you so much, but why did you achieve so little?’…” If I have to summarise my ‘own credo’ or ‘personal mission statement’ in one sentence, it would be: “Leave behind a great legacy”.

“Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.” – Charles Spurgeon

The Oxford online dictionary defines legacy as something that somebody has done successfully and that has positive effects even after they retire or die. One of my grandfathers died when I was 4 years old. He was only 46 at the time – 4 years younger than what I am now. The sad thing is that the only recollection of him that I have, is that he was an alcoholic, an abusive man and that he totally neglected his health and ultimately succumbed to emphysema and lung cancer. Sure, he probably had good points too, but those are my only memories of him. That’s it… That is his legacy, which is not the kind of legacy that I would like to leave behind. If the inscription one day on my tombstone reads: “He left behind a great legacy”, only then would I be satisfied. The reality is that I still have work to do.

“If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.” – Maya Angelou

In the Gladiator movie Maximus (Russell Crowe) tells his men before battle: “What we do in life echoes in eternity…”. What is the legacy that you want to leave behind and will it echo in eternity? You can’t answer this important question on my behalf, and I can’t answer it on yours. We can only answer this question for our own lives. So, do we or don’t we want our only life story to be an epic one? I would suggest that we can only choose to leave behind a legacy where people one day think back on our lives with fondness. Of course, we cannot always determine the outcome of every aspect of our lives and there are no guarantees, but I can assure you that if you take charge of your life and decide that this is what you want, then the probability is very high that you would leave behind an epic legacy. Another point is that you don’t build a legacy in one day, just like you don’t become a successful self-leader in one day – you build it over time, which might just start today.

“Please think about your legacy, because you’re writing it every day.” – Gary Vaynerchuck

Steve Farrar writes in his book Finishing Strong: “The greatest thing you can leave behind is the example of a life well-lived. If you leave that to your kids, then you’ve left them everything”. The crux to me of the legacy that we leave behind when we pass on, is that we can never change that legacy… If you have a great legacy right now, then you have nothing to worry about, but if you have an average or poor legacy, then you might be in trouble as you won’t do yourself justice if your time on earth ends today. Your legacy is your legacy, which is partly a product of your thoughts, behaviours, and feelings that were aligned with the objectives that you set yourself in life. So, you can choose to neglect self-leadership and think that you might only get serious about it next year, but there might not be next year and then the life that you live now, is your legacy… Each one of us has this choice.

“It’s the events in our life that shape us, but it’s our choices that define us.” – Unknown

Written by:

Hekkie van der Westhuizen, PhD.

“If you are interested in the topic of Self-Leadership, please look out for my exciting new Self-Leadership book, launching in August 2021”

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