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Leaving a Legacy

Ancient civilizations are fascinating. You see the pyramids of Giza, Petra, even Stonehenge and it makes you wonder what life was like back then.

One thing that I find particularly intriguing is that these ruins were once the most important project to someone long ago. Think about it, there were stonemasons that kissed their wife and kids goodbye and hurried to their job, I’m pretty sure they had deadlines to meet, they probably had to put in extra hours to meet the boss’s demands. And why wouldn’t they be diligent, this project was a big deal. This was important, it was… Dare I say it, urgent. After all, they were leaving a legacy.

Fast forward to the present day and their legacy is a pile of rock. A place where scholars scratch their heads and try to make sense of what these ancient people were on about.

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Humanity may have advanced technologically, but I question how much our thinking has changed. Back then, it was palaces and chariots. Now it’s houses and cars. Every generation has its indicators of success. We’re all trying to find meaning, to prove to others and ourselves that we’re valuable. That we are worthy. We spend a lifetime erecting “monuments” to our greatness.

Building an Empire

The idea of building an empire to establish our greatness has stuck with us for centuries. The only difference between the empires of old and the empires of today is the body count left in their wake.

We went from establishing a monarchy where we store up treasure from the spoils of war, rule over subjects and set up a dynasty that we think will last forever to building a business empire where we amass a fortune, boss staff around, and expect our children to carry on our legacy that will last forever. Our intentions remain the same but our tactics changed.

So, does this mean that a legacy can only be achieved by business owners?

The question of legacy is something that I wrestled with for many years, I too believed that a legacy is a business empire. After an epiphany and a lengthy search for answers, I have some bad news, it virtually never works.

Here is an interesting nugget to ponder. When we think of business empires, we think of corporates. According to an article in BBC News, the average corporate lifespan is 15 years. Considering the personal sacrifice of founders, this is not a legacy, it’s a waste of a life.

However, there are a few family businesses that are old. I’m talking early A.D old but most are in Japan. And you would assume that they are huge empires but it is actually small to medium-sized businesses. If anything, I would venture to say that carrying this “legacy” stifled the family.

Once I was at a corporation and in the waiting room, they had a write-up about being 200 years old. I was like, I finally found one. I was so excited, I finally had proof that a business is a legacy. When I spoke to them, I found out that the company just got sold and the name will be gone.

I came to realize the following:

  • The longevity of a legacy depends on how much direct input is required for its survival.
  • Its existence is further extended by its ability to be assimilated by others without being squandered.

The same desire to create a name for yourself, to leave a legacy, is the desire that destroys legacies.  Hence if your legacy is a 9 to 5 for future generations, they’ll sell it to pursue other interests. It will be used as collateral to build their own legacy and create their own name.

Is it our children?

So what then is a legacy? It’s not a business. Is it your kids? What if you are unable to have kids? Does that mean you can’t leave a legacy? I disagree.

Perhaps it’s money

What about money? Surely this is a legacy? The Bible talks about leaving an inheritance for your children’s children. So, leaving an inheritance is important but it’s not a legacy. It’s not possible to set your descendants up for life. At some point, the money gets squandered. Think about empires. Where are Xerxes descendants? Or Cesar’s, or Pharaoh? At some point down the line, it gets squandered and they’re back to square one.

Let’s play a game. I’m going to give you some names. Do you know him/her without Googling it?

  • Stephan Girard
  • William Shakespeare
  • Beethoven
  • Sir Isaac Newton
  • Vincent Van Gogh
  • Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (a.k.a. The Brothers Grimm)
  • Raffaele Esposit
  • Mother Theresa
  • Apostle Paul

Okay so let’s briefly go through the well-known names.

  • William Shakespeare – Influential playwright.
  • Beethoven – Influential composer and pianist.
  • Sir Isaac Newton – Influential scientist
  • Vincent Van Gogh – Influential artist
  • Apostle Paul – Influential leader of the early Christian Church.
  • Mother Theresa – influential humanitarian
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Here are the not so well-known names but you know their work:

  • Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (a.k.a. The Brothers Grimm) – Collected and published folklore, you’re probably familiar with stories like… “Hansel and Gretel”, “Rapunzel”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Little Red Riding Hood” etc
  • Raffaele Esposito – a baker credited as making the first pizza. Can we all just take a moment to appreciate this legend? Like kryptonite to anyone on a diet. Raffaele, my belly is your legacy. 😂

I probably stumped you on this one:

  • Stephan Girard – The richest man in the world by 1810. Have you noticed that of all the people on the list, he’s the least known… 🤔

What does the Bible say?

The book of Ecclesiastes sheds some light on this topic, I’ll share a snippet but you should read the whole thing. The author is most likely King Solomon in his old age and he laments about the futility of all his efforts. In Ecclesiastes 1:1-4:

1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

3 What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?

4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.

Solomon was successful in most aspects of life, yet he found it all to be meaningless. The one-piece of insight that Solomon didn’t have was that everything didn’t last but his writing did. He wrote Ecclesiastes around 450 B.C and for centuries people have read his thoughts on this matter.

What is your contribution?

Leaving a LegacySee, a legacy is your contribution to society. That is why you know of all the people on the list or at least know their work yet you didn’t know who Stephan Girard was. Sadly, we all take the route of Stephan Girard in seeking a meaningful life.

Legacies are selfless, not selfish. Legacies stem from your work, not your job. Your job feeds your belly, clothes you, and puts a roof over your head. Your job is important in this regard. It’s necessary. Your work feeds your soul. Your work is the application of your God-given gifts. It is your legacy.

You need your job and your work to have a good life. Not everything that’s profitable is meaningful and not everything that’s meaningful is profitable. Your job brings in money and your work leaves the legacy. You need both.

I am of the opinion that you must set aside time to work on what you leave behind (A.K.A your legacy) The sooner you start, the greater the contribution. If you don’t, life will slip by and you’ll be at the finish line and realize that you squandered life.

Going forward, ask yourself the following:

  1. What are my gifts?
  2. What issues really bother me?
  3. In what way can I help/contribute?
  4. What can I trim off my schedule to make time for my work?

I hope this will help you on your journey. Until next time. Take care.

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