I used to think of legacy as something you leave when you die — the money you’ve left to children and charities, for example. A more crucial question: Is anyone better off or happier for having come in contact with you? We are leaving a legacy with every action we take, whether we realize it or not. Those actions have the potential to impact others for better or worse. It’s the thoughtful acknowledgement that encouraged someone to do or try something they might not have otherwise. The kind word that reaffirms someone’s faith in the goodness of humanity when they were having a bad day and needed it most. The old clothes or things you recycled, despite the hassle. Small, thoughtful, kind gestures make a difference.
Your legacy can even be selfish in intent and still make the world a better place.
When I lived in New York City, I was bothered by the trash blowing around on my street (33rd Street). I was also uncomfortable about the homeless people who were begging for money at the local ATM machine. I didn’t want to give them money that might go towards drugs. However, I also didn’t want them to be left on the streets with no place to call home. These issues were on my list of tolerations—things that were bugging me. Also on that list of petty annoyances was the tear in my bathrobe that I kept thinking I needed to sew up. (Tip 1 from Coach Yourself to Success).
Every year I make a new list of annoyances, both large and small. Then, I spend a few hours (sometimes days) working through the list. Some things, such as sewing on missing buttons and fixing tears in bathrobes, only take a few minutes to solve. Other items, such as cleaning up a city street and helping the homeless, may take longer.
With a bit of prodding from my life coach, Thom, I created a little project, called “Neat Street.” I asked the homeless man who was begging at the corner ATM if he wanted a job cleaning my street. I told him I’d ask all the people who lived on my block to donate $1 a week if he’d keep the street clear of trash. He agreed and started the next morning when I gave him a broom and a dustpan. I took a photo of him, made a flyer explaining the project and started knocking on doors in the apartment buildings on that block. Only one person said they wouldn’t contribute because they thought he’d make too much money! In short order, he wasn’t homeless anymore. Soon, people were giving him gifts of old movies, books and clothes, as well as the $1. He asked if his friend could take on a street, so I asked a friend of mine to do the same on 32nd Street. And on it spread throughout the city, as the local morning news picked up the story.
I had no idea when I started this little project that it would spread so quickly. I had no intention of taking on the huge project of cleaning up the whole city. And thankfully, I didn’t have to, as more and more people called asking how they could get started on their own block. By focusing on eliminating my own tolerations, I served as a model for others to do the same. I wasn’t the only one bothered apparently!
Since Neat Street, I’ve become a certified life coach. I am now building LifeCoach.com as my legacy. I want it to be a site that can help people live happier, more fulfilling lives, while also making a difference in the world by donating to charities that help the poorest communities in the world.
My dad always used to tell me and my sisters that we should strive to leave something in better shape than when we found it. If we stayed as guests for dinner, then we would offer to wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen. I’m trying to teach my own kids to do the same, but they seem to leave a trail of messes behind them at the moment!
What can you do to leave the world a better place?
Start by focusing on your own petty annoyances and tolerations. As Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”
What small project could you tackle that would enhance your community? What one person could you single out to help? My husband spent a few hours figuring out how his blind Crossfit team member could join on the Friday night Zoom quiz. He said it felt wonderful to do something for someone he knew. Yes, it is great to help people in different countries as well, but it feels really great to see the immediate impact you can make today, right here, right now. A legacy is what you do today or this week; it’s not just what you leave behind.
I found a really great website called soapboxproject.org and it is all about taking action to effect the change you want to see in the world with small, simple steps. I’ve just signed up and am starting with “Ending Food Waste Through Meal Planning.” Meal planning will not only make a difference to our own family budget, saving us time and money, but also it will help the planet, too.
The good thing about The Soapbox Project is that you can start with any area that you want. Topics range from Environmental Racism to Climate Change. I’ve asked the kids and my husband to join in so that we have a family project to work on together–something we all feel strongly about.
What is the legacy you are leaving? Take a few minutes to think about the legacy you’ve already left. Then consider what’s next. Not only will you be happier, but you’ll make others happier, too!