“The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.”
Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD)
It doesn’t matter how old you are or how strong you are. At some point, you’re going to die.
That’s somewhat sad. But I think it’s much much sadder to never live … or live a life that doesn’t make a difference.
And I think of Verna. For years I was a licensed adult foster parent, and I had the opportunity to live with, work with, and hopefully help several people with a variety of disabilities. Verna was one of them, an older adult with a delightful personality, but unable to live totally independent. So she lived at my house with my family for about 3 years … until one day she unexpectedly passed away.
That was sad. But it was even sadder to go to her funeral. Four people showed up to pay their respects. We didn’t even have enough people to carry her casket.
Unfortunately, Verna didn’t have much of a life … according to the world’s standards. She wasn’t able to make much of a difference in the lives of very many people. But YOU do. And I want to encourage you to live and leave a legacy … starting NOW.
To live a life that makes a difference, to leave a legacy, you must…
1. Believe big.
As the old saying goes, “Shoot for the moon.” Even if you don’t make it, you’ll still land among the stars.
That’s why author David Schwartz writes, “Believe Big. The size of your success is determined by the size of your belief.”
2. Keep your eye on your goal.
Carole Mayhall did. She said one night she was watching a TV drama entitled “See How She Runs.” It was the story of a 40-year-old, divorced schoolteacher who decided to become a jogger and eventually enter the 26-mile Boston Marathon.
It inspired Carole. She decided to take on this grueling test of heart, mind, and body. She set the goal of finishing a similar race, even though many people mocked her. She simply did not lose sight of her goal.
When the day of the race came she faced her ultimate test. As she ran huge blisters developed on her feet. She was hit and injured by a bicycle. Several miles short of the finish line she found herself utterly exhausted, yet she kept on going. Then within a few hundred yards of her goal, late at night when most of the other runners had finished or dropped out, she fell flat on her face, too tired to get up.
But her friends put a crude tape across the finish line so Carole could SEE her goal. They began to cheer her on. She lifted her head, saw the tape and realized her goal was within sight. With supreme effort she got back up, and with a burst of energy dredged up from deep within her, she ran the last few yards.
The point is this … don’t miss it: Victory belongs to those who keep looking at the goal … rather than the going. So focus on the prize instead of the trial. Keep your eye on your goal. You may fall down. But so what! You can’t win if you don’t run and take the risk of falling occasionally.
I talk about that in my program entitled “The Payoff Principle: How You Can Motivate Yourself to Win Every Time in Any Situation.”
3. Do something.
Steps 1 and 2 are critical. To make a difference, to leave a legacy, you need to believe big and then keep your eye on the goal. But all of that is a waste of time if you don’t DO something.
And I find many organizations trip up on this third step. They tend to over analyze problems. They wait for one more report from marketing or one more spreadsheet from IT before they decide to do anything about their goals. In a way, they act like Congress, who almost always decides to hold another committee meeting or create another task force instead of making tough decisions and taking action. Well let me warn you: Don’t ever equate a lot of talk with a lot of action.
You probably know people like that … big on talk and short on action. They incessantly talk about finishing their education, getting a better job, paying off their debt, working on their relationship, or quitting the smoking habit. But five or ten years later, they’re still in the same place, talking about all the things they’re going to do … but never doing anything.
Clergyman Peter Marshall had a word of advice for people and organizations like that. He said, “Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.”
You’ve got to DO something … even if there are a few obstacles in your way. You should heed the words of the English writer Samuel Johnson: “Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.”
Of course you may say there are times you don’t FEEL like working on your goals. So what! Don’t wait for inspiration. Just DO something. As British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli observed, “Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action.”
George Gershwin knew that. He didn’t wait until he FELT like working on his goals or his music. In fact he got most of the ideas for his music by just sitting down at the piano and playing. He didn’t wait for inspiration. He would hit various chords, improvise a bit, and pretty soon the music would come out of him.
Throughout his brief career, Gershwin demonstrated that the way you learn to do anything was by doing it. Orators learn to speak by speaking. Authors learn to write by writing. You get the point. That’s why I tell my prospective clients … that when they hire me to speak … I will be actively engaging the audience the entire time. I know they can’t learn to communicate more effectively by simply hearing someone talk about communication. They’ve got to DO it … and so do you.
4. Use focused persistence.
As I said, you create a legacy … partly … by doing something. But it’s more than just doing something. You’ve got to do some things that are focused on getting the results you want. That’s why author H. Jackson Brown, Jr. writes, “Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, buy you never know if it’s going to be forward, backwards, or sideways.”
You see … the road to your legacy isn’t a spurt but a long steady climb. It’s quiet, steady, persistent work that gets results. So please, don’t rush into a set of actions, lose your focus, lose your energy, and wear out.
Take a lesson from Grover Cleveland Alexander, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He grew up on a farm and wanted to play professional baseball. Between chores, he would throw apples, stones, anything he could get his hands on to sharpen his accuracy. When he was able to acquire a few baseballs, he nailed a catcher’s mitt to the outside wall of a chicken coop and threw at it hour after hour. He got so he could hit the mitt nine times out of ten.
Later when he became a star, sportswriters went into raptures about the brilliance of his pitching. But no one knew better than Alexander that behind his amazing pitching was his focused persistence of throwing the ball at that old catcher’s mitt nailed to a chicken coop.
5. Overcome your obstacles.
And you will have some. I’ve never heard of a person who left a legacy and didn’t have at least one if not dozens of obstacles to overcome. Perhaps that’s why Henry Ward Beecher, the great orator of the 1800’s, declared, “It is not a few faint wishes but a lifelong struggle that makes us valiant.”
That’s how Helen Keller inspired millions of people during her time. At 19 months of age, Helen contracted an illness that eventually left her without any hearing or sight. Back then, those labeled “deaf and dumb” were also classified as “idiots”. But Helen’s parents didn’t agree. They hired teacher Anne Sullivan to work with her, and eventually she learned to read and write. Amazingly, in 1904 she graduated with honors from Radcliffe College, and then devoted her life to helping others.
Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie paid her an annual income. Writers Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson praised her, and almost every President of her day invited her to the White House. Even though Helen died in 1968, her legacy of courage lives on. When asked if there was anything worse than being blind, Helen replied, “Yes, having sight but no vision.”
You can leave a legacy. Indeed, you should leave a legacy. Follow these five steps and you will.