I admit it- I’m a workaholic. I’m not truly happy unless I’m running 1,000 miles an hour, solving problems and talking about business. I stress when things are slow because I don’t know what to do with the downtime. Then I stress again when things are busy because I can’t possibly get to everything I am envisioning. This probably sounds familiar to many “type A” individuals like me. And I didn’t really think about it until an event that changed my life.
I was in the middle of a business meeting talking about my next big idea. I was at breakfast pitching this idea with my stomach in knots because of an upcoming presentation in two hours. While in mid thought, I got a call from an associate who never calls. I decided to pick up the phone.
“Dan, Doug passed away. He had a heart attack.”
I was stunned. I was saddened and angry, too. Doug was my friend. He was 41. He was too young to die; only two years older than I am. My heart goes out to his family. He had a wife, two young children and a baby. For the next few weeks I reflect over his sudden passing. What are the things I’ll remember about Doug? What will his family remember?
And I’m wondering about what would happen if I had died like Doug did.
How would I be remembered? How would my kids remember me? They are still very young- would they even remember me? What about everyone else I care about? My wife, my brother, my good friends, how would they remember me?
But my wondering doesn’t last long. My busy life takes over and I go back to my usual fast-paced, stressful ways. I’m back to burying myself in my work and not really being present with my family.
Fast forward to several months ago. That business pitch I was making at breakfast when I learned of Doug’s death has now evolved into a viable business called LegacyShieldSM. I’m traveling across the continent for meetings to promote this new business and I’m feeling good until an unexpected realization hits me like a sucker punch to the gut. In an instant, I’m transported back to the day I received the phone call about my friend Doug and I realize I am now the same age as he was when he passed. A wave of emotion comes over me and my mind starts to race. What’s my legacy going to be?
You see, we all leave a legacy. It’s either the legacy you want to leave, shaped by you and intentionally created by you to be remembered by the friends and family you leave behind. Or your legacy becomes memories and stories shaped by default, by outside circumstances and by others because you allowed the busyness and distractions of life to keep you from focusing on what life really means to you.
I don’t want my legacy shaped for me based solely on a successful business career or the time I’ve had to spend developing and growing that business, taking me away from my family. While I have done that and I’m proud of my accomplishments, I also want my kids to remember me as a loving father, a mentor and a teacher. I want my wife to remember the man she married and the fun we’ve had together.
In that moment on that plane when the memory of Doug and his death reached out to me, I had two realizations.
First, I knew what I had to do: I had to change my life. I had to be present and shape my legacy, to share my dreams and life lessons with my kids, to leave a lasting impression that will help them face their own futures standing on a strong foundation of love and wisdom that I built for them. I opened up my computer and I started writing about what my son, my daughter and my wife mean to me and how I felt the first day each one of them came into my life. It was at that moment that I finally felt truly alive and, more importantly, in that moment I began to live the life I would be proud to leave as a legacy.
That’s when I had my second realization.
I probably wasn’t the only one who needed to start thinking about his or her legacy. As soon as I shared my thoughts with my business associates, we knew we needed to create a space on LegacyShieldSM for people to record their memories, their life lessons, family traditions and the life stories that all contribute to the legacy we leave behind. But it isn’t always easy to do. So we worked with a team of dedicated PhDs who are experts in storytelling. Together we created MyLifeStories on the LegacyShieldSM website to help anyone and everyone leave a legacy in their own words, whether written or recorded or in photos.
I still think about Doug a lot. I’m not sure what plans he had in place and whether or not he was able to effectively leave the legacy he intended. His death was unexpected, and he may have been like I was, always thinking that there’d be another day and that I could spend time with my kids later, tell my wife how much I love her later.
Don’t wait for later. Don’t wait and let your legacy be shaped for you by others. Start thinking about how you truly want to be remembered and start living your life as if today were your last day. And make sure you save those stories. They will become your greatest gift.