Dear Kaia, Lila, Yara, and Aleena,
People usually think about their legacy as they get older. Recently a dear friend of mine faced some medical issues. It made him think about his legacy — How would his family remember him? What would he leave behind for his family? What difference had he made in the world? He has inspired others to think about their legacy. I’m very grateful that my friend’s treatment is going well; we are optimistic he will be around for a long time and will continue to build his legacy.
You can’t live forever, but examples of your actions will.
Legacies come in different forms. I find the matrix below useful in organizing legacies along two axis — type of legacy and the duration:
Let’s start with the bad legacies. Most bad legacies correspond to bad leadership. Dictators leave a legacy that ruin their country and harms the world for long stretches of time. The impact of bad leadership in business or school can take years to undo. Bad legacies should be avoided, but they can be corrected, with persistence, in due time.
That brings us to good legacies. Often people think of material assets (e.g. wealth, property, etc.) when they think of legacy. Legacies based on wealth tend to diminish as they are consumed by future generations.
The best way to leave a legacy with lasting impact is to set good examples with your actions. That’s why role models are inspiring — we hope to act the way they do. In our complex world, we have so many choice in how we act. Sometimes its difficult to know the right action.
I will share 3 practices that have been very beneficial to me in guiding my daily actions.
Every day is the first day of the rest of your life
The things you do today will most likely be the same things you do tomorrow and the day after. If you fill today with things that give you fulfillment, you will continue doing it in the future. The corollary is also true. If you don’t do something today, you will likely also not do it tomorrow.
If you live another 50 years, that’s more than 18,000 days. That’s over 18,000 chances you get to affect your life. Every morning when you wake up, spend a few minutes thinking about how you will spend the day.
If you are not deliberate about how you spend the day, it will be over before you know it. It is easy to get caught up in the daily motion. Every morning, step back and reflect if you want today to be like yesterday. What would you change?
Your purpose can help you align your daily actions. If you don’t have a purpose yet, it’s ok. You can focus the day on trying to get closer to your purpose. It can take years to find that purpose but the journey is worth it. Once you have found that purpose, pursue it every day.
If you want to change your future, change today.
Raise the floor
If you fail today, it’s ok. You can try again tomorrow.
You will hear people say “try your best” or “do your best”. It will seem cliché. More importantly, it might feel like a burden to always try to be your best. You can focus on never making a mistake. That is a very high bar to keep up over days, weeks, months, and years.
Another approach would be to lift yourself when you make mistakes. You are going to make mistakes. Everyone does. I have made so many. When you make a mistake, don’t ignore it. Accept it, inspect it, and then, correct it. I have found the best way to move forward is to recognize that we are not defined by our mistakes but by our responses to these mistakes.
If you keep raising the floor, then over time, your worst will be pretty good.
Focus on doing right, NOT being right
Every day, you will come across decisions that will challenge you. Many of these decisions will be categorized as being right vs. doing right.
Being right is about putting yourself first. It makes you stubborn. It makes you narrow minded. It makes meaningful relationships difficult because others won’t trust your intention. Being right sets up will you to make mistakes and have regrets.
Doing right makes you put others first. It opens your heart and mind to other possibilities. People will be drawn to your actions. Doing right is hard and it requires focus and persistence. Doing right will provide you fulfilment.
You will face many situations in your life where you must make this choice — in your classroom, with your friends, at work, and eventually with your kids. It happens to me every day. Consistently doing the right thing will be among the hardest things you will do. You will get it wrong often and that’s fine. If you keep practicing and learning, then your arc, over time, will point to the right.
How will you act?
This is the 10th letter. I am not sure how many more of these I will get to write. I have really enjoyed writing these.
When you get to this letter, let’s sit down and chat more about your actions. I will challenge you to think about your legacy and examples you want to set. What daily practices are meaningful to you? Which of those practices do you want others to follow? You will have a lot of time to figure that out with your life experiences.
You are welcome to build upon the 3 examples I shared with you. Feel free to remove or modify them. Put your actions into practice every day and one day, your descendants can follow in your footsteps and set their own examples.
It would be fun to see how this list evolves 500 years from now!
The letters from the past 9years: