"When something comes to life in others because of you, then you have made an approach to immortality." ~ Norman Cousins
Donna, a friend of mine from Owning Pink, sent me this quote when I put up a post about the after-school program I hope to pilot in January. It made me re-consider my earlier post on legacy and my post on dreaming big, drawing a through-line that connects them. Is our best chance at legacy not through something we build, but through our efforts to helps others build something?
All night I've been considering people who have built great public legacies in the not-so-distant past and put Norman Cousin's spin on their contributions. The one I kept coming back to was Walter Cronkite. He was a great journalist, perhaps the greatest journalist, who kept the country calm during tumultuous events. And while his own career is impressive, the great majority of the coverage of his death was linked back to the fact that he inspired an entire generations of journalists, including all of the household names we turn to every day to help us understand what's happening in our world. They are his legacy.
Walter Cronkite is a perfect examples of what Wes Jackson meant when he said that we should dream so big that our life's work can't be accomplished in our lifetime. It should continue on long after our time has come to pass. There seems to be no better way to do that than to let our legacy live on within the work of others, in their accomplishments, in what they do with the lessons they learn from us.
Last week, I had another discussion about legacy. Someone told me that he didn't have any idea how to build a legacy, that he wanted to explore things that interested him in the hopes that somewhere down the line his pursuits would help someone else in some way.
At the time, I must admit that I was a little confused because this is the person who got me thinking about legacy to begin with. If he is so interested in legacy, then how could he not know how to build one? Now his comment makes sense - he's doing what all great legacy builders have done. They didn't set out to build a legacy, to make people remember them. They set out to do something interesting and helpful with their lives, and do that as best they could. When that becomes the focus - doing your best, pursuing something interesting and helpful - the legacy building will take care of itself. With that focus we have the hope of living long after we've passed through this world.