“I don’t really care if people forget me. My legacy wasn’t about me. It was about everything I could do for another. When that sinks in…well you try a little harder. You dream a little broader. Your heart stretches a little farther and you find that you can’t go back to the same place and make it fit. You become a person of ideas and seek out your own kind. And then it happens: One day you discover that staying the same is scary and changing has become your new home.”
Shannon L. Alder, Author
When I googled the phrase, “do not try to create your own legacy” the following links first appeared on page 1:
“You Can Make a Difference: 7 Ways to Create a Legacy;”
“How to Think About Building Your Legacy;”
“10 Ways to Build Powerful Legacy Now;”
“How to Build Your Legacy;”
“7 Great Quotes on Leaving a Legacy;”
“Your Children are Not Your Legacy;”
“5 Ways a Legacy Driven Mindset Will Define Your Leadership;”
“5 Simple Steps to Build Your Legacy;”
“How to Build a Legacy;”
“The Basics of Building a Legacy – Cultivate What Matters.”
Obviously, either my google skills need significant refinement [a veritable certainty] or a search about not trying to create your own legacy is so counterintuitive as to be non-existent. After all, don’t most people believe they can write their own legacy, they are masters of their domain, lord of the manor and king of the county? People WILL remember them a certain way! Isn’t that what most people desire?
Life events over the course of the past year or so have brought into focus the fragile nature of existence, the lives we touch and how we are perhaps remembered. In October 2019, my elderly father passed away. In September 2020, my elderly mother passed away. In November 2020, my slightly older brother passed away. In January 2021, my younger brother nearly passed away after suffering a massive heart attack. A beautiful granddaughter being born in November 2020.
A reminder that death comes for us all. Everyone dies. But, not everyone really lives. Can we dictate what people think of us while we live, let alone after we are gone? And should we even try? If we focus a great deal of time and attention in attempting to establish our own legacy, isn’t that by its very nature, the very essence of egocentricity and is in fact, counterproductive to establishing a memorable legacy?
Is a life so focused on trying to build your own legacy as inane and shallow as those people who today, go forth and loudly proclaim themselves patriots? That seems to be the height of self-identification and is almost exclusively a self-created label. After all, a person’s actions and conduct may to one group of people be seen as daring and noble. To another group, that same action and conduct may be seen as foolhardy and damning. King George VI certainly did not see George Washington and the other founders of our nation as patriots but as traitors.
So, what do we spend our life trying to build? What will be our legacy? Will we be remembered at all by future generations and if so, for what will we be remembered? Is that even important? And can one bold, daring act tear apart and even tear down a perceived established legacy? Or many years from now, is that one bold, daring act looked upon by future generations as singularly courageous?
Recently, a few people advised that whatever “legacy” I thought I was trying to establish in the eating disorder community would forever be tarnished because of my involvement in the class action lawsuit against NEDA. Another person stated that she doubted that organizations would collaborate with me again on any matter. If that is the case, it would be unfortunate that a community could act from a place of fear and insecurity by placing personality differences and differing viewpoints over the advancement of a common cause. That unfortunate point of view is also exacerbated by the reality that those people are basing their actions upon a faulty premise.
The fundamental misunderstanding with their line of thinking is … I am not concerned with and am not trying to establish a “legacy.” I have not been an eating disorder advocate for my entire life. In fact, had my daughter recovered, like many other strong men before me, I would have left behind this dysfunctional community and never looked back. In a heartbeat. But, that was not to be my fate.
I believe too many people in the eating disorder community are more concerned with trying to establish their own legacy. They seem to be trying to accumulate power and they demand respect. They believe they have paid their dues and it is their time now! They place their own ego over the needs of families and people who suffer, and die from this disease. They fear progress not generated by them. And the more they try to accomplish their self-important goals, the further away they get from achieving anything of substance, let alone greatness. And whatever legacy they so desire continues to elude them. Perhaps they have forgotten, or perhaps never knew a fundamental foundational element about legacies.
There is a prescient line from a movie entitled, “Star Trek – First Contact.” One of the main characters, the inventor of warp drive was explaining that his vision of a device that would change humankind was inspired not by noble thoughts and altruism, but by his lust for money and pleasure. In response, another character responded, “Someone once said, Don’t try to be a great man. Just be a man and let history make its judgments.”
So, how does history make its judgments on legacies? What conduct does history embrace or shun in carving and shaping a person’s legacy?
Are legacies made by those persons who lead organizations blindly and with little vision and compassion? Or, are legacies made by those late night phone calls when a young person suffering from an eating disorder reaches out to you because you are a safe place for them?
Are legacies made by people who loudly proclaim that their views on counseling and social justice are the only correct views and if you do not agree with them, they ostracize and in some cases harass you? Or, are legacies made when a young person, mostly recovered from her own battle with eating disorders, with tears in her eyes, looks you in the eyes and tells you that you are her second daddy?
Are legacies made by persons who on the outside may project a façade of confidence and intelligence, but on the inside their soul is gripped with fear and insecurity and they live their daily existence so afraid that their pain will be discovered? Or, are legacies made when a mother, with tears in her eyes, tells you that she believes you saved her child’s life because now her child is recovering and has a chance at life?
Are legacies made by persons who are looked upon as knowledgeable simply because of their longevity in the community and because people like them? Or, are legacies made when a young woman who was in treatment with your daughter contacts you, tells you that your daughter was so important in her recovery, that she just had a baby, and she gave your daughter’s name to her child as her child’s middle name?
Are legacies made in the broad light of day for all to see and admire? Or, are legacies made in the quiet of the night where only you and one other person know that on that night, that one blessed night, one more life was saved?
I know I am not erudite enough to supply meaningful insight into any of those questions. I do believe that a soul doesn’t explain its purposes or the path it directs you to follow. Instead, perhaps our true legacy lies at the end of that path. Perhaps, when we try to get off that path, our legacy is pushed further away. Perhaps when we try to force our way down that path sooner, to “make things happen,” our legacy fades even further away. Perhaps when our focus turns to the self, to our ego, to our own self-aggrandizement, our legacy remains out of reach.
What is your legacy? Again, who can possibly know that? But, is it possible that we get closer to what our legacy could be by simply getting out of own way, by performing simple acts of love and kindness with no expectation of acknowledgement or reward? By living in a place of service to others with grace and humility? Now, make no mistake. There will be those necessary times which demand a warrior’s mentality. Times which demand great and mighty deeds. Times which require a soul filled with strength and courage. Times which demand decisions made intelligently and decisiveness. But after you wield that sword, one must return to that fundamental place of humility and service to others.
As for my legacy … I will remain just a man. And let history make its own judgments.