In April 1888 the famed inventor of dynamite, Alfred Nobel, got a premature glimpse of his own legacy. While in Paris for the funeral of his older brother Ludwig, Alfred read his own obituary, mistakenly published by a French newspaper. In it he was memorialized as ‘The Merchant of Death” for inventing faster and more efficient ways of killing men than ever before. It was NOT the way he wanted to be remembered.
Nobel intentionally set out to change his legacy. He became an outspoken advocate for Peace. Alfred firmly believed that once humanity discovered we could completely annihilate ourselves through explosives, surely this would herald the end of war.
If only he were right about that!
Nobel passed away a mere 8 years later in December 1896. When his will was opened, the world was surprised to discover he’d chosen to leave 97% of his vast fortune (a sum equal to about half a billion $US today) to found the Nobel Prizes for Peace, Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, and Literature (Economics would be added later). The prizes were to recognize and honor “those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.” Today, when most think of the Nobel name, they think more about the prizes in general. For most of us, it’s the Nobel Peace Prize that specifically comes to mind.
The moral of this tale is clear:
You can take charge of your legacy.
Apparently, you only need half a billion $US to do so!
But surely there’s a cheaper way to do this? What if you took a good close look at “Your one and only limited resource,” the time you have remaining on Earth, and gave yourself the same gift that Alfred Nobel received in Paris in April 1888?
The exercise is simple. Grab a journal, paper and pen, tablet, or laptop. Then:
1. Envision your own funeral just a decade from now (I know that may seem short to you, but any longer than that and you’re likely to procrastinate doing the things that matter most. In fact, just two or three years hence might be even more helpful if you’re prone to put things off).
2. Now, think of all those people that matter the most to you: What would you like them to say about who you were in their life, while you had a chance to be in their life?
3. Write down the words or phrases you’d like them to be able to say about who you were as a person. Consider these areas:
The accomplishments you achieved while you were here;
The makeup of your character;
What virtues you stood for and modeled;
Who and what mattered most to you;
How deeply you loved others;
How you lived out your spirituality;
What you left behind for others as your lasting legacy.
4. Start with those closest to you and work your way out from your innermost circle – your closest relationships. Consider including the words you’d most like to hear from your Creator, since you will now be in their presence!
You may want to capture these words as bullet points, short phrases, or even free-flowing sentences. Or you might want to diagram them as shown in the figure below:
If you participated seriously in that visualization and journaling exercise you’ve made contact with your conscience. You’ve connected with your most deeply held values. Good for you!
You’re now poised to:
Live forward into your desired future,
backward from your desired future.
You can now take charge of creating your legacy like never before.
We’ll pick up there next time. Until then … be significant!