In a recent phone call with a long-time friend, we talked about her unexpected and unintended vacation from all things digital while traveling for the holidays.  She spoke about how not being able to keep up with her blogging schedule and missing out on her Twitter stream was stressful at first, but then she made a remark that the time away from life online allowed her the perspective to realize that her online presence was insignificant in comparison to what she wanted to leave behind as a lasting legacy.

That statement profoundly shaped my thinking about my plans and goals for the new year.

I spend far too much time worrying over subscriber numbers, social media influence, and writing gigs, and far too little time stepping back and examining what I am doing that will last long after I am gone.

And so with the ringing in of the new year, I am making time to sketch out an action plan that will keep me on track for thoughtful legacy-building; a philosophy to guide and direct me both in 2011 and in the years to come.

Would you like to join me?

Start at the end

It’s hard for many of us to think about our own mortality, but the truth is that if we are wondering what our lasting legacy will be, we must begin at the end of our lives.

  • When I am gone from this planet and my children are reflecting and remembering me, what do I hope will be their most powerful memories of the time we had together?
  • What do I want written about me in my obituary?
  • What are the stories, memories, and influences I hope to leave behind for my children’s children, and others for whom I hope to have influenced?

If you keep a journal or some written record of your life, it might not be a bad idea to actually write down your answers to these questions.  I find there is something in the act of writing that makes an idea more concrete.

Evaluate and connect

Photo by Andreanna Moya Photography

As we consider our hopeful legacy, we must take the next pivotal step of evaluating who we are and what are doing now that either contributes to or takes away from building that legacy.

• If I want my children to remember me as a constant safe place in their lives, I must make the conscious choice to be a safe place for them on a day-to-day basis.  If I’m too busy to calm their Big Feelings or to listen to their hopes and dreams, then I am too busy.  My schedule must be loosened up so that I can be the person I want them to remember.

• If I want to leave a legacy of practicing hospitality, I need to be intentional in creating an oasis at home where anyone is welcome, anytime.  I need to be willing to open my heart and our front door, welcoming others in no matter how untidy the house may be.

• If I hope to pass on my love for literature, literacy, and learning, then I need to thoughtfully create a home that cultivates a love of reading.  Trips to the library, ample time for bedtime reading, and frequent family reading times are all things I can intentionally plan to contribute to a legacy honoring the love of learning.

Of course, these are just a few ideas that are important to me.  Perhaps your legacy might include world travel, meaningful social justice work, rescuing abused animals, preparing exquisite meals, or involvement with local government . . . The possibilities are endless and are entirely unique to you!

Little things are long-lasting

One of my favorite lines from the movie Up is when Russell tells Mr. Frederickson, “That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most.”

I think that’s an incredible reminder that as parents we can dream, plan, and act on all of the things that we want our children to remember about us — or not.  We are building a legacy every day, whether or not we are intentional about it.

Grace comes in to remind us that even the smallest, most seemingly insignificant, or even boring things are the things our children will remember long after we are gone. Bike rides, bubble baths, making cookies, singing silly songs loudly, hide-and-seek on rainy days, and hopscotch on the sidewalk — these are a pivotal part of what we will leave behind.

My mom often laments that when we were kids, she yelled too much or didn’t get down on the floor and play with us enough; somehow the passage of time has already softened that for me, and I tend to remember fondly that she almost always had a great snack waiting for us after school and that she never, ever missed a choir concert.

Photo by Beth Rankin

As I’ve given much thought to my own legacy in the past few weeks, I’ve realized I don’t want my children to remember me only in silhouette – a face turned toward a screen.  The time we have to share with children sharing the same roof with us is short and fleeting, and if I want the memories my children will someday cherish to be of me completely connected and entirely engaged in our 3-D life, then I don’t have the luxury of spending my days chasing the elusive and the temporary.

As we move forward into 2011, let’s purpose to keep our hearts and minds fastened on that which will last.

Have you given much thought to your own legacy? How do you hope your children, family, friends, and community will remember you?