Your legacy is one of your most valuable possessions. It is a treasure. It is your gift to the world. For every person you come in contact with, your influence—good and bad—goes with them to some extent. Your legacy is how you are remembered.
There are a number of educators, and other mentors, who have had a profound impact on my life. They influence me even when they are not present, even if I have not seen or spoken with them in years. Just thinking about the type of person they are inspires me even now to learn more, dream more, do more, and become more.
These people lift me up and make me stronger. They have a strong legacy in my life.
How Will You Inspire Others?
I want to have a strong legacy too. Not only because I want to be remembered fondly. Of course, I do. But more importantly, I want to make a difference. I want my life to count for something bigger than me. I want to be that legacy person for someone else. I want to help others.
I was recently listening to a podcast by Andy Stanley. He shared an exercise he said changed his life many years ago. He was reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.
In 7 Habits, Covey challenges his readers with an exercise that is profound. You might find it unsettling or even slightly grim. But I urge you to read it carefully and thoughtfully. As you read the excerpt, consider how reflecting on this passage might be life changing for you too.
In your mind’s eye, see yourself going to the funeral of a loved one. Picture yourself driving to the funeral parlor or chapel, parking the car, and getting out. As you walk inside the building, you notice the flowers, the soft organ music. You see the faces of friends and family you pass along the way. You feel the shared sorrow of losing, the joy of having known, that radiates from the hearts of the people there.
As you walk down to the front of the room and look inside the casket, you suddenly come face to face with yourself. This is your funeral, three years from today. All these people have come to honor you, to express feelings of love and appreciation for your life.
As you take a seat and wait for the services to begin, you look at the program in your hand. There are to be four speakers. The first is from your family, immediate and also extended —children, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents who have come from all over the country to attend. The second speaker is one of your friends, someone who can give a sense of what you were as a person. The third speaker is from your work or profession. And the fourth is from your church or some community organization where you’ve been involved in service.
Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father, or mother would like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?
What character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives?Stanley shared how he spent several days reflecting, in writing, on the questions set forth in the passage.
The 3-year timeline until your death is an important detail in the exercise. It creates a stronger sense of urgency. As educators, we should always have a sense of urgency too. We may be our students' best hope. But we only have so much time. We may not have the same opportunity to influence them next year. They will likely move on to a new classroom with a different teacher.
Educators Leave a Lasting Legacy
Although the funeral exercise is great reflection for living a meaningful life, how might it be slightly modified to narrow the reflection for you as a teacher/educator? In a similar instance, what might your students say about you as their teacher? What would their parents say? How about the community you where you work? What is your legacy in that?
As I reflect on those questions, I am reminded of what's most important to me. And I am also reminded of things that might distract me from the most important things. The most valuable thing is how I treat people, all of them. People come first. I want to be the kind of person who is always learning, who lifts others up, and who treats people with kindness, care, and consideration.
It's easy to get distracted from the most important things. I am a person who also wants progress, who has goals, who is driven. If fact, in the past, there were times I was too focused on achieving and not tuned in to the people around me. I am working hard to make sure that doesn't happen anymore.
I am convinced that reaching goals, making progress, and achieving success will be more likely to happen—mostly inevitable—if the first priority is people. If we treat people with all the care and concern we possibly can, we will see progress and success like never before.
I respect every person who works hard and gets stuff done. There is value in working hard and earning a living to support yourself and your loved ones. But teaching provides the opportunity to do far more than just earning a paycheck. It's more than a job. When teaching is your life's work, you have the opportunity to make a lasting difference. You have the opportunity to make an important contribution. Your legacy counts!
So think about it...
What really matters?
What keeps you up at night?
What makes you want to be a better teacher, principal, parent or friend?
I hope these questions are helpful as you think about your legacy and what's most important to you. Reflecting on what you really value is one of the best things you can do to find purpose and meaning in your life and work.
Questions? What do you want your legacy to be? Are you focused on the right things? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.