instead of leaving a legacy, live it!

02/05/2011

by carolyn mathews

Look up the definition for “legacy” and you will find a variety of explanations, all of which center on the concept of money or property that one bequeaths or gifts. From the viewpoint of those in the legal or financial industries, this definition suffices. It is their job to get you to consider and plan for this. Indeed, a long-time friend (whose career spans the legal and financial domains) questioned the wisdom of me speaking to “near-retirees” about their legacy. To him, a “disconnect” exists between something one leaves behind when they die and my message urging those considering retirement to start creating their signature legacy NOW, before they retire.

In one regard, my friend is right! If you think of your legacy as money or property left behind, it doesn’t sound very life-affirming, especially for those still young enough to work. Yet the process of creating your signature legacy can be very life-affirming. Indeed, you must live your legacy in order to have something to bequeath.

What do I mean by living your legacy? Your legacy goes far beyond the gifting of property. Boiled down, it encompasses how the people you care about will remember you. Sure, you can be remembered for gifting property, but don’t you want to be remembered for more than that? I suggest to my clients that creating a signature legacy involves the three Rs: raison d’être, retirement planning, and reputation. It is the combination of these that creates your legacy. Today I will focus on the first of these.

Raison d’être (which translates to “reason for being”) involves finding purpose in your life. Throughout our lives, our purpose changes in a way that reflects our circumstances and our values. Earlier in life it may be about establishing your career and/or raising a family. Later in life, it may still involve family, but may also include something like giving back to others, for example.

In my experience as a therapist and a coach, identifying a future purpose, beyond one’s primary career, is one of the main stumbling blocks as one considers retirement. After decades in an established career, some people view their purpose as closely tied to their work. This prevents them from contemplating next steps towards retirement because for them, retirement amounts to loss of identity. However, you can change this stumbling block to a building block.

Your “reason for being” represents the linchpin to creating your signature legacy, a meaningful retirement that fosters the life and reputation for which you want to be known. The key is to know your values, identify your strengths, find your passion and determine how all of this fits with your circumstances. You can do this simply by thinking about what you do now that engages and fulfills you. Consider what you do outside of work with family or friends, perhaps. If this exercise provides little direction, take an assessment like the VIA (take the VIA here). This survey of your personal strengths and values takes about 30 minutes and is free. The results will reveal your top-5 strengths, those that you use most naturally. Once you know what these are, consider how they can be used as you discover your future purpose. Work with a coach to discuss the meaning of your strengths, how they play into your purpose now and in the future, and to develop and act on a plan.

Discovering your raison d’être is the first step to living your legacy. By not living your legacy, you will have little but property to leave behind.

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