I’ve spent the weekend writing about legacy stories, a special part of the world of storytelling, in which you look back at your past, while still moving ahead.

Often, a legacy story is one that you can pass down to another generation of people who care about you. But not necessarily. You might want to create one that’s for your eyes only, a way to acknowledge choices you made and from which you find extra meaning.

You may be thinking, “But I’m too young for a legacy!” which is another way to say, “I’m hoping to be around for a while yet.”

Taking a look at the paths your footsteps have followed and the patterns they have made along the way might help you make better decisions TODAY about how you want to live going forward.

And there may be people in your life–even a lot of them–who would appreciate knowing more about you. How I wish I could read the words of my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, etc. who passed without telling me much about their lives.

I’m still kicking myself for not asking more questions of them when they were around.

Still, you don’t have to share anything and your story might end up being for your eyes only.

A few reasons for creating a legacy story:

  1. Working on your legacy story can help you find more peace about your life.
  2. It might change how you see your life today.
  3. You may gain ideas about how you want to live in the time ahead.
  4. People who care about you will be very grateful.
  5. You can sell the screen rights for millions of dollars.  (Might be a little exaggerated…but it’s not too hard to make a video).

Your story doesn’t have to be monumental

People may shy away from thinking about a legacy story because it sounds so grandiose. But it doesn’t have to be! I’m into simple and small these days (in a world that’s anything but), and you can make your story as small and abridged as you like.

For now, forget about creating the big-deal-definitive-study of your life. (Your compelling memoir can come later…)

Think of your legacy story more like a curated show about your life rather than the big retrospective.

You display a few of your interesting pictures (scenes of your life), but you don’t have to display the full collection.

I would have been happy with any show about my Grandfather.

A close friend has been working on her “legend” story–a kind of legacy–and I’m privileged to be able to read it. She explored her past for key themes, events, and people, weaving them into a rich tapestry of metaphors, using the archetype of The Hero’s Journey as background to her work. Her legend opens up new creative possibilities for what she may do over her next thirty years.

(Factoid: did you know that legend and legacy share the same Indio-European root, “leg,” meaning “to collect, gather,” related to “to speak” and “to gather words, to pick out words.”)

How you can start

Here’s one way NOT to start: don’t ask, “What’s my legacy story?”  The question is too big and too vague.

Instead, see if you can remember memories of specific incidents and people who have moved you. Your heart is a better story-teller than your head working alone. You want to engage your feelings and senses rather than your editorial brain–the one that likes to polish and puff up a “good story” about your life.

While you may have a sleek version of a story you use for job interviews (or if someone actually wants to listen to you for more than five minutes at a networking event), you don’t need to add shine to your legacy.

Your life, as you have lived it, is plenty interesting without extra gloss. In fact, part of what makes your legacy story interesting is finding out where you have a few warts hidden, and how you may have screwed up, fallen (metaphorically), skinned your knee, and recovered.

My friend and colleague Juliet Bruce has helped many people from different walks of life find their stories using the Hero’s Journey framework. She suggests the following:

“Ask a person not to remember, not to talk in generalities, but to ask story questions about their lives. What was your wedding day like, tell me about your wedding day? Very specific scenes in their lives. What music played around the birth of your child? Get people into their senses, their sense memories and whole beautiful stories of decades emerge.”

Juliet invites people to use the Hero’s Journey as a powerful, archetypal framework through which to look at their legacies.

“Using The Hero’s Journey paradigm people find that their lives were not a waste, in fact, they were very beautiful lives no matter how ordinary they were. They made choices that were the best choices they could make in the moment. They endured, they carried on, and they made it to this age.

And now, faced with the frailties of the human body and sometimes the mind, [particularly if they are older]  they still have great wisdom and a sense of continuity to share with younger people.”

Your legacy story can reveal what is fundamental and good about you, and what you did right while allowing plenty of space for the flawed parts as well.

You did enough

As someone with a noisy inner critic who sits on my shoulder like a monkey throwing off banana peels and wise-ass comments, like, “Who do you think you are?” and “You haven’t done enough,” the idea of acknowledging both the good and the difficult parts is daunting.

I gained hope watching the closing scene in the film Schindler’s List. Otto Schindler, after saving the lives of so many Jews who worked in his factory during the Holocaust, crumples before his beneficiaries and wails that he didn’t do enough.

At least my feelings of “I didn’t do enough” puts me in good company.

Your legacy story is a way that you can claim that you did do enough.

If you want to explore this more, I have questions you can ask, as well as a cool exercise for legacy-searching called “The Wise Counselor Exercise.” They’re in a little ebook I just wrote called  “Looking Back, Moving Forward: a Guide to Crafting Your Legacy Story.” Drop me a note if you’d like to receive a beta copy.

For now, just remember: your story does matter–and there’s someone who’s longing to hear more about it…

And that might even be you!

Here’s to your unique, waiting-to-be-told legacy story,

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