A legacy refers to the things you leave behind in this world after you die. It doesn’t only refer to physical things, but it also refers to the impact you make on the world that resonates long after you’re gone.
As we get on in life, we increasingly reflect upon what our legacy might be.
To identify what your legacy should be, it’s best to reflect upon your personal values. You’d want to pass-on those values to the next generation. You can do this through your actions while alive, as well as how you distribute your assets once you die.
Below are some examples of how you could create your long-lasting legacy.
1. Passing-Down Family Traditions
After a parent or grandparent dies, we often continue to remember them and celebrate them through the traditions they gave is in life.
One that’s personal to me is my family’s Friday night dinners. We started these when my grandfather was in his 60s. We would go to my grandfather’s house, order take-out fish and chips, and all eat together, sharing stories of our weeks.
To this day, long after he is gone, when our family gets together for Friday night dinner, it’s a part of his legacy. We continue this habit as a way to celebrate him, but also as a way to bring the family together – which is exactly what he wanted to pass-on to us.
2. Setting up a Scholarship Fund
Some wealthy people might decide to set up a scholarship fund for the disadvantaged as a way to leave a legacy.
My sister always talks about this – we went to an average old state school that was, like most, underfunded. But she was ambitious and loved to learn, and she empathizes with other working-class kids like her. So, she would love to set up a scholarship for poor and underprivileged children as a way to pass-on some home and support for people with whom she empathizes.
3. Donating your Money
To take the above point in another direction, many people decide that they’ll donate their money when they die to a range of causes close to their hearts.
In fact, some people prefer to do this while they’re alive so they can see their legacy before they die. One example of this is the giving pledge, a pledge by billionaires to give away all of their money.
The great thing about this approach is you can sit down with your lawyer when you write your will and talk through the wide range of charities and causes that are close to your heart, distributing your assets across each of those charitable causes.
4. Passing-Down your Values
Passing-down your values and beliefs is perhaps more important and feasible than giving away money. Everyone can do this one – rich or poor.
For example, many people say that their children are their legacy, because their children are the people who carry-forward the family values you instilled in them in your childhood.
To leave a legacy of values, all you need to do is live a principled life – share your values every day and that’s how you’ll be remembered when you’re gone.
5. A Family Home
Some people feel that the best way to leave a legacy is to build something. Architects must feel this way, driving around looking at all the buildings they designed.
But for many of is, it’s the family home that we leave behind.
This is particularly strong for my father, who built our family’s home with his own hands. Now, as he gets older, he feels very proud of that house, where he raised his children and looked after all of us. That house is a part of his legacy.
6. A Family Vacation Tradition
My wife’s family get together every August for a week. We go to the same lake resort each year and the aunts, uncles, and cousins get a week to catch up and maintain relationships.
This legacy comes from the matriarch of the family, who set aside money so she could pay each year for the accommodations. This ‘free holiday’ for the whole family is her legacy – making sure the tribe stays strong long after she’s gone by bringing everyone together and reinforcing the importance of family.
7. Legacy Memberships
Perhaps the most famous of legacy memberships is the legacy admissions policies of ivy league universities. These policies give easy access to the children and grandchildren of graduates, helping the younger generation to skip the queue.
For example, if a grandfather went to Yale University, he might be able to get that granddaughter into the university without having to jump through all the hoops that other children need to jump through.
This legacy is all about passing-on advantages, social capital, and institutional cultural capital to your children and grandchildren, which can give them a hand-up in life.
Another very common legacy is the passing-on of family heirlooms, such as precious jewelry, war medals, the family tartan (for the Scottish!), and so forth.
These heirlooms might have very high monetary value or, more commonly, pass-on family stories and folklore that contain narratives about family pride, the family’s core values, and the importance of taking pride in your heritage.
For example, a grandfather who passes-on his WWII medals to his grandchildren is ensuring they know the legacy of their family, who stood tall and fought for the freedoms they enjoy each day.
9. Oral Histories
Another way to pass-on your legacy is to through storytelling. The oral histories of your family, from stories of greatness from the past to storylines about family values, help to ensure your belief system and your culture is passed-on to the next generation.
One way this can be done is by continuing to share the stories you heard in childhood that present the morals, values, and traditions of your culture. This is particularly common in cultures with strong oral folklore cultures, such as Aboriginal Australians with their Dreaming Stories.
Another way could be to pen your own memoir. This can be read by descendants for years to come, learning about their heritage and family background.
10. Family Recipes
Many families will have their ‘secret family recipes’. They get passed on as a way to build family connections and sense of connectedness between relatives.
My grandmother on my father’s side, for example, passed down a few special recipes to my mother, which was a special bonding opportunity for the two of them. These special family recipes are brought to family gatherings and form a part of the family culture that are passed-on as a legacy from one generation to the next.
In the workplace, many people in leadership positions start to think about how to mentor the next generation and pass-on their wisdom.
For example, a successful businessman might mentor a promising up-and-coming entrepreneur with the intention for that younger person to take over the business, or even take the skills and start their own new business. This can be an extremely rewarding way to pass-on your crystalized knowledge from years of experience.
Similarly, an older sportsperson might mentor younger sportspeople.
See More: Mentorship Examples
12. Letters to the Future or Time Capsules
A sweet way to create your legacy is to write a letter to your children or grandchildren that they can open on important days in their lives, such as on graduation day, on their wedding day, and the day their child is born.
These letters allow you to slow-drip messages through the generations and act as a way to continue to share your values, love, and influence on your family long after you’re gone.
An alternative to this is to create a time capsule – a box with instructions not top open it for 20, 30, 40, or even more years into the future. This way, when descendants open the time capsule, they can look in awe at times past.
13. Land Preservation
Many environmentalists crate a legacy by buying areas of untouched prime wilderness land. This can protect nature for future generations to enjoy.
Furthermore, it’s a way to save land for endangered and threatened wildlife, which can then go on to be preserved long after you’re gone.
One famous person who did this was Douglas Tompkins, the founder of the brand The North Face, who spent millions to buy wild land in Patagonia, Chile, to save the 2000 remaining wild South Andean deer from extinction.
14. Your Career Work
Another sure-fire way to leave a legacy is to choose a career that does good for the world. This might include going into a career in an NGO, fighting for workers’ rights, or fighting for the protection of the environment.
Similarly, my parents – both teachers – find solace in the fact their entire careers were about educating the next generation, giving them a leg-up, and helping them to reach their goals. As such, their legacy lives on in the many thousands of children they educated and supported throughout their lives.
15. Financial Inheritance
Perhaps the most basic of legacies is the passing-down of your savings and investments to your children.
There is always debate about the best way to do this. Some might argue passing-on too much money will make our children spoiled, and that they need to go out and earn their living to truly appreciate their money.
For example, Bill Gates has said he won’t be passing-down his money, arguing “It’s not a favor to kids to have them have huge sums of wealth. It distorts anything they might do, creating their own path.” (see source).
Others, though, might wish to pass-on their money to their children and grandchildren as a way to make their life easier, help them get ahead in life, and help them to be comfortable.
Your legacy is yours to craft the way you want. Whether it’s by passing-on values, physical heirlooms, buildings you’ve constructed, money, memoirs, or anything else, it’s all about passing-down some sort of value to the next generation. Ideally, it would be about reflecting on how to leave a better future for the people you leave behind, and perhaps, be remembered for your great values and great contribution to this world.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]