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« Annuities: Their Uses and Abuses | Main | Long Term Care; Is It in the Cards? »

Our Legacy

Like kings, presidents, and prime ministers, I suppose we all occasionally ponder what our legacy will be, the more so as we approach retirement age.  Certainly those who find themselves in exalted positions of power can more easily leave their imprint on people and history, but even those of us who have lived more mundane lives affect those about us and can rightly wonder how we may be remembered.  How will I be remembered at my workplace?  How will my family and friends remember me?  How will my life be discussed in that funeral parlor some day in the future?  Who among us of any age has not looked into the casket of a friend or loved one and considered what might be said of us at that point?  Would you take the opportunity to ease into that future setting, like Ebenezer Scrooge, and listen if given the chance?  Folks make some pretty interesting observations at wakes.  Consider this comment overheard at just such an occasion:  "The boy didn't have any credit; his second wife ruined it for him!"  What would your friends have to say about you?  I believe that most of us would like to think that we will be judged to have been a force for good in some way, but can we know this before we check out of our earthly circles?  I think that we can, if we are willing to be honest with ourselves.

Undoubtedly you have known a number of individuals who, though not well-known on the national stage, left a lasting effect on you and others.  It is said that our influence can be compared to dropping a stone into water and creating ripples that flow outward.  We can never quite be sure how those little ripples will effect those around us.  As you consider your life, you may wonder at how some little ripple from someone steered you down a certain path.  I had a rural mail carrier as a teenager who had been a pilot in the US Air Force.  He probably never knew the impact he had on my life with only the few discussions we had regarding his experiences.  Our lives may very well impact others in a similar fashion.

Likely all of us, in our formative years, had teachers, coaches, counselors, or other adult friends whom we admired, and presented us with excellent role models.  We may have even patterned certain aspects of our lives after those individuals.  Eventually though, we became who we are.  By the time you are considering retirement, as am I, you have pretty well settled into your character.  We long ago adopted the beliefs and value system that guide us and make us who we are.  By this time we are likely less concerned with appearance and more concerned with the substance of our lives.  If we find that we are not satisfied with some aspect of our character, it is never too late to try to improve, and in the process, improve our legacies.  It is harder however, to change as we get older.  We need to be thoroughly committed to change if we expect to be successful; in other words, you might as well pack a lunch; you are going to be a while, but that is no excuse not to try!

Certainly these things do not matter to some, maybe to most, as some simply do not care how they will be remembered.  Their attitude is "I will be gone; why will it matter to me then how I am remembered?"  Some folks are simply incapable of the introspection necessary to even consider such a question.  They are either too dull, calloused, or indifferent to spend time on such a pursuit.  Some are so caught up in the getting, doing, or just living that they do not have the time or inclination to consider such a topic.  Some seem to believe that legacy originates with how many "toys" were acquired, what was built, or how big the estate is.  I think most realize though, that one's legacy emanates from the more substantial and meaningful aspects of one's character, such as integrity, loyalty, dependability, liberality, and honesty; in short, how we deal with others.

So, assuming we care, how can we determine in the here and now how we will be remembered?  As I said, we must first determine to be absolutely honest with ourselves.  As the poet, Robert Burns, said long ago, we need to "see ourselves as others see us."  He wisely noted that this would be a rare and wonderful gift to have.  To help in this exercise, I have developed a list of questions.  These questions came to me as I reviewed the lives of those whom I believe have left enviable legacies.  I believe that, if we will step "outside" of ourselves, attempt to see ourselves as others see us, and answer these questions truthfully, we may get a glimpse of our future legacies.

  1. Can you identify with the plight of others; can you "feel their pain," to quote one of our past residents?  This is one of the abilities that distinguish us from the lower animals, and I believe is an important determinate of how one will be remembered.
  2. Are you quick to help others in need?  Do you look for such opportunities?
  3. Do you do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it?  My dad always said that if you would just show up on time, you would be ahead of most.
  4. Can you listen to those whom you deem to be idiots and loudmouths with patience and equanimity?  More importantly, are you able to avoid being one of those?
  5. Do you treat waiters/waitresses and other service personnel with respect and dignity?  In fact, how do you treat all of those you deem of lower status than yourself?
  6. Can you listen to opposing views and, while defending your own, still be agreeable?  Similarly, do you listen, or talk more?
  7. How do you handle failure and disappointment?  Are you willing to accept responsibility for your failures, or are you prone to look for others to blame?  Also, are you willing to share the successes as well as failures with co-workers?
  8. Are you able to rejoice in the success of others, or do you immediately look to find fault with someone else's success?
  9. Are you involved in a cause bigger than yourself?  It may be your church, a school, or civic pursuits; but is there anything in your life other than yourself and your immediate family?
  10. Have you made a difference for good somewhere?  Have you left anyone or anything better than what it was when you found it?

I realize that how others may remember us pales into insignificance compared to how our creator will ultimately judge us, but it just may be that there will be a correlation, especially if we are talking about the memory of good and honorable people.  And it occurred to me as I was contemplating these questions, I may have some work left to do myself; but then we are all works in progress, aren't we?  As Yogi Berra so accurately put it, "It ain't over til it's over."  So, as we work on our retirement flight plans, we may just want to do a little work on our legacies as well.


Addendum:  I realize that these musings vary a bit from my stated purpose for this site, but something I overheard recently set me to thinking about this topic.  I hope you found it interesting as well.  I will follow soon with an article on the uses and abuses of annuities.  Check back in a week or so.


Fly/Drive Safely

27 January, 2008



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Reader Comments (1)

Number 3 on your list reminded me of a quote from Anna Quindlen's book, A Short Guide to a Happy Life:
" I show up. I listen. I try to laugh."
Pretty good advice.

January 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGinger

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