Human needs are endless.
We all have the basic needs we share with any animal. The need for food, for water, for shelter, for companionship.
But beyond that, there are all kinds of needs and desires we have that other creatures don’t seem to concern themselves about at all.
One of those is the need to be remembered.
You see it everywhere, from the pyramids of Egypt to the libraries, hospitals, and concert halls with the names of major 19th and 20th century philanthropists. People want to leave a legacy.
And even if you’re not famous, you probably want people to remember you positively when you are no longer part of their lives.
Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done.
Are you leaving behind a legacy you can be proud of? Or are you falling short of your potential when it comes to leaving something behind?
Here are some signs you’re not building a legacy:
1) You’re not clear on what you want
First things first: you can’t even begin to build a legacy until you are clear on what you really want.
Why do you want to build a legacy?
Is it because the egotistical part of you wants to be remembered? Or is it because you have strong values and goals that you believe should be carried on into the future?
Ultimately, most people who leave behind a positive legacy do it because they try to make the world a better place than they found it. You can do this in big ways, by trying to change the world. Or you can do it in small ways, in the workplace, in your friend group, or in your own family.
Business writer Jim Rohn stated it like this: “We are stewards of this world, and we have a calling in our lives to leave it better than how we found it.”
But however you do it, you’re going to need to know what kind of legacy you want to leave behind and what matters most to you.
Finding your true purpose in life can require lots of introspection and soul-searching. But it’s worth it to discover what’s most important to you, and crucial if you want to leave a lasting legacy behind.
2) You don’t know your strengths
Of course, part of figuring out what you want to do is knowing what you can do. That means getting an in-depth knowledge of your personal strengths – and weaknesses.
Think hard about what you’re good at. What can you do that almost no one else does as well as you?
It could be a skill you have and use in the workplace. Or it could be something more personal. It could be life lessons or recipes you hand down for your family, or skills you teach your friends.
In fact, it could be just about anything.
Focusing on your strengths allows you to zero in on what you have to offer other people. And that’s one of the most important steps to leaving behind a legacy you’re capable of.
3) You don’t live according to your values
Maya Angelou once wrote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
From that perspective, leaving a legacy is not so much about your impressive achievements, but about your personal character.
When you live according to your values, you provide an example for other people to do the same.
And when you live with integrity, people will remember that.
One of the people who left me the biggest legacy was my grandmother. She didn’t leave me a penny when she died; she had no financial wealth to leave anyone. But she did leave me with an example of someone with absolute integrity.
She was kind and thoughtful and openhearted. But at the same time, she was no pushover, and she was always uniquely herself.
That’s a memory I carry with me every day and a legacy I aspire to myself.
4) You’re not a positive influence
Think carefully about the effect you have on other people.
We all like to think that we run our own lives and make our own decisions, but the reality is, we all take in various influences from our environment.
In other words, the people around us help make us who we are.
Think about the influence you have on other people, whether it’s your friends, your colleagues, or your family.
Do people respond positively to you the moment you walk into the room? Do your words and actions have a strong influence on others?
If so, you are probably already well on the way to leaving a valuable legacy behind.
But if not, you have some work to do.
After all, if you can’t influence people in a positive way while you’re still around, what hope do you have of doing it after you’re gone?
5) You are not optimistic
Think about it.
The whole idea of leaving a legacy requires at least some optimism for the future.
After all, you want your legacy to leave the world a better place. That means you need to believe in the possibility of creating positive change.
You don’t have to be relentlessly happy and upbeat all the time. In fact, that kind of performative optimism can often seem fake.
But you do need to have hope that the future is something worth investing in. You need enough optimism to believe that the future can be better than the present.
If you don’t have that, your chances of leaving a lasting legacy are slim.
6) You don’t take the long view
Leaving a legacy is all about taking the long view.
That means you need to consider the long-range effects of your actions, possibly even years into the future.
Often, it’s easy to react to what’s going on around us in the moment and make our decisions based on that.
But if you want to leave a meaningful legacy, you need to think about how your behaviors contribute to a future you may never get to see.
That’s true of the systems and processes you set up in the workplace. It’s also true of the things you teach your kids.
There are many different ways to leave a legacy in the world. But they all require that you consider your actions in the light of how they will affect the future after you’re gone.
7) You don’t think about death
Cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker wrote a Pulitzer prize-winning book called The Denial of Death. In it, he argued that most of what people do is intended to avoid acknowledging the fact that we all have to die one day.
It’s not pleasant to think about your own death. But if you want to leave a lasting legacy, it’s important to acknowledge that you are not immortal, and that one day you will be gone.
When that happens, all that will remain is the legacy you leave behind.
Alfred Nobel was alarmed to find his obituary written in a paper while he was still alive. In it, the obituary called him a merchant of death for his development of dynamite, which had made him a fortune but had cost many people their lives.
Appalled at the thought of being remembered this way, Nobel channeled his fortune into founding the Nobel prizes to award major advancements in the fields of literature, science, and peace.
You don’t need to go that far. But considering your own mortality will help you focus on the kind of legacy you want to leave behind.
8) You don’t engage with the next generation
The future belongs to the young. So if you want to leave a lasting legacy, you need to engage with them.
Now, how you do that is up to you.
Maybe you want to be a mentor to new hires in the workplace.
Maybe you want to work with youth groups to inspire the next generation.
Maybe you focus on raising your kids to be ambitious and moral members of society.
It’s only in engaging with young people that you can ensure your legacy will continue into the future.
9) You don’t give back
Perhaps the most important thing when building your legacy is to focus on other people.
Yes, your legacy is about you. But if you really want it to last, it should be more about what you can give to other people.
Your skills, your expertise, and your guidance can all help other people achieve great things. But that won’t happen unless you focus on helping others, both now and in the future.
How to leave a legacy
Leaving a legacy for the future starts with the things you do today.
Your strengths, your skills, your values, and your morals all help to shape the legacy you leave behind for others.
So keep an eye out for the signs that may keep you from leaving the legacy you’re capable of.