Building a legacy

My father Charles (now 91) still going strong, after having written down his life story in a 180-page book.

My father Charles (now 91) still going strong, after having written down his life story in a 180-page book.

What will you leave behind

When my father was 87, he wrote his book on a childhood spent on a little island in Indonesia (it was also about wars, forests, history: but the pages about his life were my page turners). We had a party to celebrate the three years of work and the finalization of the 180-page history book.

Not only Bill Gates has thought carefully about what he wants to leave behind. Also Bill Clinton (with the Bill Clinton Foundation) and Mark Zuckerberg have announced this in recent times.

Such news is often met by sceptism. Too little too late, Clearly done for tax purposes! Such gifts for charity are generally seen as fake doing-good for the rich.

Whatever you may think of celebs allocating funds for charity, let’s hit pause and let’s look at ourselves in the mirror for a moment.

Are you happy with what you see, or do you want to turn away from this picture?

Not about money

This is not about money, your capital, vacation homes, the dice. That stuff is important, it creates security. But - as we know - money is hardly ever the topic of what we talk and think about when we leave this earth. Hence the main topic of this article: how do you want to be remembered by your environment, your family members, your children and friends?

Your story

Some people literally write down their story. Like my father (see picture) did, when he wrote about the little Island Bangka where he as born. Dutch writer Minne Buwalda in his book ‘The story that you leave behind’, encourages us to write a story about our sabbatical, a career switch, or even more serious events, such as the loss of family members. It helps you, as a writer, to acquire self-knowledge and to direct your life.

After your death, your memoire offers your family members insight into the world of the writer. You pass thoughts on to the next generation. In doing so, you bridge the gap between you and the members of a newer generation; members will feel more "connected" with other links in the family. They are enabled to better understand where they come from.

Living it

But such a ‘life-story’ does not necessarily have to be in writing. You can start by just living it!

To determine your legacy, it is important to look deeply at yourself who you are. The older you get, the more space there is for such a contemplative exercise. Have you ever thought about what lasting changes you have caused in the world, or your own community or environment? Sometimes it can be a bit confrontational. Have you ever dreamed of working for the good cause - setting up a charity or a cultural project? It is good to think about these things; the earlier you start the longer you can enjoy it.

A coach or mentor can help in this process. As most know, it’s not easy to see yourself objectively.

In personal coaching, the following questions may be asked:

  • how do you want to spend the remainder of your life?

  • how do you ultimately want to grow old?

  • what tangible memories do you want to leave behind?

Do you want to be the super-relaxed family person, off to go swimming with the children on Saturday morning? Regularly seen at the football club chatting with everyone? Do you want to leave something more fundamental behind? Something that transcends the family and raising children; by the way, these things - family, connection to your surroundings - form of course an important part of a legacy.

Workaholic or free spirit

A few examples. Are you a workaholic (or do you simply like to work a lot and work hard) and do you work most of the week? Then that will be reflected in your story. Hard work has an upside, a very positive one. Your family, friends or people you support will feel financially secure and will see you as a reliable, solid man. There is also chance that your children will say - once you disappear from the earth - that you were not always there for them. And you may be seen as someone harder to connect to than the person that is always available.

If you are more of a ‘free spirit’: then there is a chance that you are often absent, because you travel or enjoy your freedom in another way, then this will probably be reflected in your life story. You may be seen and experienced as hard to commit in the long term. And your relationships may or may not be more superficial, because you tend to fly from one relationship or adventure to another.

One more example. If you drink or smoke a lot, you will have to deal with some darker clouds: unfulfilled dreams, health concerns that everyone has about you. These concerns will come back and will be included in the story about your life. Whatever fun and loving creature you may be.

After age 40: the right time

What is the right moment, for soul searching and legacy work? Probably not when you just started a career. Some facts. Between the ages of 25 and 35, men and women are busy laying the foundation: career and children have priority. After the age of 35, the first relationship challenges may arrive, children get older, sometimes you are still trying to find the right partner. Getting older, let’s say after 40 (or 45) doing things will cost more energy and more effort. This is the time to do some contemplation and share wisdom and knowledge with the rest of your younger members of the tribe. Think about what to leave behind. It could also be your restart. A period in which you re-shape and re-invent yourself (after a relationship breakdown, resignation or split from business partners: my soon to come e-book will talk about this).

Some examples of legacy creators

The lawyer Peter Benenson became furious when he read in 1961 about two students, who were sentenced to 7 years in prison for raising their glass and giving a toast to freedom. He organized a protest and asked people send in protest letters; people around the world reacted. He called it "Appeal for Amnesty." He switched careers and devoted himself to a new mission. This became Amnesty International, an organization that has been working for 50 years for prisoners around the world.

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Ultra athlete Rich Roll was a former athlete, and 42 years old when he hardly could climb the stairs anymore. The former alcoholic attorney had kicked alcohol, replacing his addiction simply to junk food. One day, he had the vision of a heart attack. He decided to change his life and took up endurance sports (and later switched to plant based foods). The first triathlon race he participated in was a double triathlon. An ultra-athlete was born. He is now a writer of cookbooks, thought leader in well-being, and owner of an internationally successful podcast, voted the top 20 most fit Americans.

Do you have an idea for a switch in your life? Or did I forget great legacy makers? Drop me a note.

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Robert de Wilde is a coach and mediator (former attorney in The Netherlands and Dutch Antilles). For info on business coaching, lifecoaching or online coaching programs: send a mail via Contact