What if we die having done nothing remarkable or novel? Is that truly a failure? A while back I wrote about the Novelty of Depression especially in connection to the American Dream. What if our legacy is one of emotional impact rather than vocational achievements? Have we really robbed ourselves of the potential of a phenomenal life?
I think not. I think our lives are phenomenal whether or not it tallies to be a historical one. Before I came into treatment I had determined that if I was “recovered” it meant I was “achieving”. I had a long list of accomplishments I wanted to have completed as if to say I would just keep getting better and not have any side steps in my momentum or progress and never have to deal with my mental health after this round of treatment. The fallacy that somehow I would just get better and my mental illness would be past tense, consumed me. It added so much pressure to the way I was responding in treatment. I wanted to be at my best when I left, but living in superlatives is not possible.
I used to be so wrapped up in this idea that I had to die having done something remarkable, which maybe is an authentic and worthy goal to have, but when I really deconstructed what “remarkable” meant I realized it was measured by what I had done and not with how I experienced my life and how I let others experience mine. We do not have to be special to be meaningful.
The social pressures that we sometimes succumb to push us to make decisions for how we want to be remembered rather than how we want to live. I think we are doing a tremendous disservice to ourselves when we sacrifice the life that excites us or brings us peace to appease to the life we think will make us exciting people to be with, to talk about, to remember.
What if your legacy is one that honored the way you loved someone? Or the way you taught someone to love? What if your legacy was the fact you had a 9-5 PM job that you sometimes loved, sometimes despised but went to anyways because you were hardworking, because you cared? What about a legacy rooted in the service of others-even if you weren’t met with gratitude, isn’t that a selfless act of love? Even a life filled with travel or cooking cuisines that brought you closer to home, is that not also something to celebrate?
Our legacies don’t have to calculate to be something a generation will remember. It can just be something your children honor. Heck, it can be something you hold precious to yourself even if it’s just yourself in this. This isn’t to say you failed, it’s to say you lived in the way that felt right to you and how could there be any wrong in that? How could there be anything wrong with doing the best you could with what you had so that you could build a life you loved?
Our lives cannot be measured into resumes, plaques, awards, or titles. When I think about the people I care about, I don’t justify my love for them by what they did but rather who they are and how they have impacted me.
What would you do if you were process oriented rather than impact-driven? What would you be doing if you centered your decisions on your values rather than your idolizations? How many opportunities did you over-value because it satisfied your ego rather than your spirit? This is not to say that people who make achievements are vain or vile, but that sometimes leaving a memory of love can be just as strong as leaving a memory of innovation.
What do you want your legacy to be?
Are you living for how you want to be remembered or are you living to have something to remember?
The pressure of building a legacy can rob us of enjoying the experiences that are momentary. We are fleeting beings, we will not be forever even if our names are printed on paper or plaques or if there are random holidays named after us (apparently there’s a day in honor of Beyonce on May 23 in Minnesota). Whatever it may be, I hope you live a life you love and build a life you will miss.