Building A Legacy: What Will Your Gravestone Say?

September 29, 2017
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In the lightening moments of morning, just as the sun is inching above the horizon and splashing the brilliant purple and red brushstroke colors of dawn in the sky, I run past a graveyard.

It is a small graveyard that surrounds an old, one-room church. The church has cream-colored bricks, weathered and faded, and a red shingled roof that slants hard towards the ground.

There are gravestones around that church. All colors and shapes and sizes. They all wear some signs of age but the truly old are almost washed away of lettering. The engravings just a worn groove of a name in an eroding rock.

I stop at this graveyard every time I run. I stop, I catch my breath, and I look at the gravestones. I read the names and the accomplishments and the dates and I do the math of how old they were when they died and how much they might have accomplished and I wonder what is left of the legacy they left besides these old pieces of rock.

I wonder because someday I will have a gravestone. Not literally. I don’t really see the point in it literally, to be honest. What I mean is, I will be leaving a legacy in my place when I die. I will be leaving a monument to the relationships I had, the accomplishments I achieved and the images I leave in minds of others. I will be leaving something that I will no longer be able to change and I want to make sure to leave the best possible version of that headstone in the world when I go.

Living While You Are Dying

“Remember that no man loses any other life than this which he now lives, nor lives any other than this which he now loses.” – Marcus Aurelius

Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, each one of us is marching towards death. Some of us are moving slowly, some of us are moving quickly, but all of us are moving in that direction and no one gets to move in another way.

This should not be a depressive thing. It is just reality. It is the way of things. Sooner curse the direction of water down a mountain or the fall of rain from the sky then curse the natural progress of life towards death.

If anything, this should be a motivational thing. Knowing that each day – each moment – is one moment closer to you not being able to contribute to this world is one of the greatest motivators life offers. Expiration dates provide expediency and though you can not know when your number will be called you can rest confident in the knowledge that it will be called someday and when it is you will be called to task for what you gave of yourself to the world while you were here.

The thought of dying should light a fire in you. It should intensify your focus to the unlimited beauty and absolute fucking unintelligible randomness of living. It is a sharp recognition, to be sure, but it can be used to motivate yourself towards living. Towards taking chances that might lead to big rewards on something you really want. To taking chances in love. To pouring your blood, sweat, and tears unto the ground as you move towards a life you want.

It should push you towards pursuing those dreams you have that only you can bring to life. And those dreams that you breathe life into will become part of your legacy. They will not be the whole of it because legacies are more than just the things we have accomplished, but they will be an important part of it. And establishing those parts of your legacy will require you to live while you are dying.

Eulogy Skills vs. Resume Skills

When you die things will be said about you. Stories will be told. Qualities will be attributed. Abilities will be assigned. All of these things will happen whether you want them to or not. People need to describe your legacy to others and those stories they tell and the attributes that they give you in those stories are what I like to call eulogy skills.

Eulogy skills are those things that define the character of our being. Things like compassion, honesty, grace, imagination, gratitude, and love. These skills can be cultivated and improved through effort and discipline and these skills are what you will be remembered for. I call them eulogy skills because these are the things that will be said of you when you are gone. The things spoken of in your eulogy.

The problem with most people is that they do not focus on building their eulogy skills. They focus on building their resume skills. Resume skills are the skills you have that are going to get you jobs. Skills that we put on our resume that say only something about what we think we can offer in a workplace. Punctuality. Attention to detail. Technical skills. They are important things to be sure, and they may speak to your eulogy skills in a cursory manner, but they are not nearly as meaningful to your legacy as your eulogy skills will be.

Cementing A Legacy

“It is enough for me that in eternity it will be noted that I did not keep my peace” – Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.

The only way you can create a legacy, something etched deep into the hard stone of life, is to have fire in your being and explode that shit out of you in an unending storm of purpose and progress. Everything you do right now shapes the memory that others will have of you.

I know the Stoics would say that worrying about your legacy is pointless because you have no control over how people will come to see you. And I believe that, to a point.

I am not worried about my legacy because I want to be remembered in a certain way, I worry about my legacy, and I do the things required to cement that legacy because I want the chance to be remembered in a certain way.

I want to give the world something that could be considered great. Something that has a chance at being bright and shining. I want to give the world my stories and my actions so that it may come to impact the life of another. So that it may prevent one small harm or drive one small dream towards birth.

So what does this look like?

What does it look like to live a life that is driving towards a legacy? I believe it is broken down into 3 aspects and if we focus on each with earnest intent and a disciplined drive that we will leave something important in our wake.

Physically

This is about keeping yourself strong, healthy, fit and flexible. Part of how you will be remembered is as a piece of meat. It’s true. You can know and say a great deal about someone by explaining their habits of exercise, eating or general level of activity.

But maintaining a fit physical form says so much more than fleshly implications. It says you have many more qualities that make a legacy strong – discipline, willpower, self-control and tireless work ethic towards achieving difficult things. These are all good eulogy skills and ones that will carry your legacy far when you are gone.

Intellectually

I don’t know about you, but I do not want to be remembered for just having a good body. I want to be a bit more substance than that. I imagine most people would agree. To that end, we also have to do the heavy intellectual lifting that is required to make an impact in the world and further cement our legacy.

This means taking time to pursue intellectual things. Reading. Museums. Classes. Community talks. Whatever. There is so much food out there for your brain that if you are starving your mind it is from neglect more than an absence of sustenance.  

This part of your legacy is also about expressing yourself. About having the mind that wants to pursue the creative things it has to give to the world. I think we all have something worthwhile to gift to the world and a critical component of being able to create an enduring legacy is finding your gift and giving it as often and as strongly as possible.

Socially

Arguably the most important part of cementing your legacy will be in the relationships you develop in the world. If we leave nothing else of ourselves in the world we leave our markings on the hearts of those people we interacted with in our lives. Friends. Family. Lovers. Haters. Those are the people who carry our legacy with them and who tell the stories of our lives in order to bring us back from the grave for a short time and impart a lesson or a message unto the heart of another.

We should take great, great care with this part of our legacy. We should try to develop bonds with others that are worthy of the legacies we want to be left behind. We should choose our friends wisely. Ones that will not purposely defraud our legacies when we are gone. We want people around us that are working on their own legacies, so we can have comrades in our struggle.

It is about loving deeply, really. If you can manage to put your heart into things all the way then you are going to leave something substantial when you are gone. Something that will work to heal all the breaks and tears and rips of the world. That is the kind of legacy that is too powerful to die and to beautiful to fade.

Fearing That You Have Never Lived

“Good men must die, but death cannot kill their names.” -Proverb

I know that thinking about death is scary. It scares the shit of out of me as well. I sure as hell don’t want to die and I am not so stoically cool that I can lean back in my chair and smile while I tell you that I don’t fear dying.

But you know what scares me more?

Never fucking living. I am so scared that I will get to my death and I am still going to have something left in the tank. I am scared that I am going to get there and I am going to know I didn’t give it everything I had. I didn’t give the only fucking shot I have at this living thing everything that is in my being to give.

And that fear is what drives me to think about the legacy I am leaving. It is the fear that forces me to do everything it takes to make the opportunity possible for that. I know, I know. Eventually, the world is going to forget me. Eventually, the world is going to forget us all. Everything.

But none of that matters to me because I am right here, right now. I am a living, breathing, eating, shitting, walking, talking, loving, hating, feeling being who has right now to exist and make a difference. Maybe it sticks, maybe it doesn’t. I will let the future hash that shit out. For now, I control what I can, the difference I make in a world that I live in.

I do know one thing. No matter how long I am remembered, I want my gravestone to say that the fucking universe knew I was here. Even if for only a short time. That the universe was made better by my being here. And that it continues to be better because I left something of myself in it. I threw my rocks in the water of life and the ripples I created still create waves that move the aimless ships of others. I want that to be my legacy. What do you want yours to be?  

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