What is Your Life Sentence?
I hope that this isn't news to you, but someday you and I are going to die! Just two weeks go I conducted my 8th funeral and each time as I do, one of the hardest things to do is to summarize up a person's life into just a few sentences. Believe it or now, when your times comes (and this might be soon for some of you and far off for others), people will do the same to you and your entire life will be summarized into a "life sentence" or two. What do you think they will say?
If you've not thought about this before, it could be a bit troubling. The good news is that you can actually have a lot of influence on what they say. You can pick your own life sentence.
In 1888, a wealthy and successful man was reading what was supposed to be his brother’s obituary in a French newspaper. As he read, he realized that the editor had confused the two brothers and had written an obituary for him instead. The headline proclaimed, “The merchant of death is dead,” and then described a man who had gained his wealth by helping people to kill one another. Not surprisingly, he was deeply troubled by this glimpse of what his life sentence might have been had he actually died on that day. This incident was pivotal in motivating him to become intentional about his legacy. Over the next 8 years he worked tirelessly at creating a legacy that truly did represent who he was, resulting in him leaving nearly his entire fortune to fund awards each year to give to those whose work most benefited humanity. This is, of course, the true story of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and the founder of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The average man does not know what to do with his life, yet he wants another one which will last forever. Most people are not intentional about their legacies. They should be. Nobody will ever care about the legacy you leave more than you do. If you don't take responsibility for it and see it through, then nobody else will. You can be like Alfred: you can create your own legacy. Here are a couple steps to do so:
1. Identify Your Legacy
Think about how you'd like family, the community and your colleagues to remember you. Think about what has/will make this life well spent. Think about your responsibilities (what you should do), your abilities (what you can do), and your opportunities (what you could do).
Use these thoughts to identify, in a short sentence or two what you'd like people to remember you most for. John Maxwell's sentence is "I want to add value to leaders who multiply value to others." After spending quite a bit of time on this exercise, I've created "making a positive impact everywhere he goes." So, what is yours?
2. Live Your Legacy
What will you have to change in order for you to act in the manner of the person who will achieve this legacy? When will you being to live this legacy? Choosing a legacy is the easy part, living it is much harder. The best way that I've found to make my legacy true in my life is to approach it one day at a time. In fact, I believe that the secret to our legacy is our daily agenda - that is, what are we doing daily that supports and contributes to our legacy. Small acts done consistently each day over time creates great impact.
Remember, most of us do not get to determine how we will die, but we can all choose how we will live. I challenge you be be intentional about the legacy you leave!