What legacy do you want to leave?
How do you leave a legacy? On the internet, you can find countless ‘5 tips’ articles that claim to have the answers.
Most of these articles suggest you leave money to charity in your will or start volunteering for a good cause in your retirement. Both are virtuous things and should be encouraged whole-heartedly.
But interviewing elders about their lives, as we do at Heirloom Films, you get another perspective on the question of leaving a legacy.
The message we often hear from elders goes something like this:
Leaving a legacy isn’t something that’s done in one go late in life. Nor is it something that happens when your will is dusted off.
Your legacy is primarily the values you have lived by and have inspired in others. It’s about how you’re remembered, not necessarily what achievements you’re remembered for.
Legacies: handed from one generation to the next.
For many elders we interview, leaving a legacy is about sharing stories and imparting life lessons.
When we ask “What lessons would you like to pass on?”, we hear answers like:
– “Relationships with family and friends are the most important achievement in life.”
– “Helping others helps yourself.”
– “Contentment is more important than happiness.”
– “Be honest with yourself – live your own life and don’t worry about what other people think.”
These life lessons represent a lifetime of accumulated wisdom, condensed into powerfully simple messages. They represent a wealth of understanding that can be transferred from one generation to the next; an invaluable legacy.
Sometimes this wisdom is passed on automatically. Other times it’s not until we create a film that families hear for the first time what really matters to their loved ones.
“Your legacy is primarily the values you have lived by and have inspired in others.”
There’s a millennia-old Jewish tradition of writing an “ethical will”, a letter to pass on values, wisdom and stories from one generation to the next.
In this vein, Barack Obama has written a “legacy letter” to his daughters, commencing “I want to tell you a little more about why I decided to take our family on this journey.” It includes lessons passed on from his grandmother and his own reflections and hopes for the future.
Our life story films may come in a USB thumb drive rather than an envelope, but at their heart they are simply a multimedia version of this ancient tradition. The kind of legacy that will not only be treasured by families, but will continue to shape them for generations to come.