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How to create your legend (when your name isn’t Hilton)

The word legend is often associated with celebrities, notorious fame-seekers and dead heroes. But there’s a new legend: someone who follows an authentic path, courageously following the call s/he knows to be true. You, too, can be such a legend…if you claim it.

IMG_3209You might be a legend.

Of course, you’ll probably say, “I’m not famous, not a celebrity, I haven’t taken a large step for humanity, or seen my face plastered across the news.”

I know that. But are you living from that deep, authentic place inside that is truly you? Are you contributing in the ways that are yours to do? And are you living courageously following a thread – a path forward towards your own sense of truth and fulfillment – even when you’re often unsure and confused about where you are?

Congratulations!!! You might just qualify. There’s just one step left: you have to claim your legendary status.

And then keep going.

Forget about celebrities, fame-seeking publicity artists and dead historical figures. I’m talking about a different kind of legend.

Shiloh Sophia McCloud, visionary artist and creativity consultant for women, says that someone who is legendary “is an inventor of possibilities… not governed by reason and rule, but by a sense within …that there is something she is called to do – and indeed must do.”

Shiloh writes for women, but this applies to us all. Let me share an example of what living your legend looks like.

Many moons ago I went to business school at Yale, where I met a Lori, a woman who became a special friend.

Lori had everything going for her that would position her for success in our culture:

✓ Smart
✓ Prestigious education (Stanford, followed by Yale B-school)
✓ Highly athletic
✓ Personable, likeable, caring
✓ Creative and hard working
✓ And…very attractive (which never hurts!)

But, as graduation approached at the end of two years in B-school, Lori was feeling lost.

She watched as many classmates marched straight into six figure jobs (and this was 30 years ago) in investment banking, blue chip consulting, and consumer goods product management (producing stuff like soap, cereal and Fritos). There were a few other job options –  but none that matched Lori’s dreams.

We talked a lot in those days, sharing our hopes that there was more to life than marketing Fritos. Sure, we wanted good jobs using those shiny B-school skills of strategic planning, marketing et al. But, something else was calling us, even though we didn’t know what it was.

Lori was interested in international work, service, making a difference, expressing herself creatively, and helping people. She spent some years after Yale searching, finding and working hard at a variety of jobs, none of which felt like “this is it”.

In the decades since Yale, Lori’s path took numerous twists and turns.

After failing miserably as a budget analyst, she lived and worked for years in poor countries in Africa and Asia. She tried writing a book, worked as a freelance tour leader, and turned down an offer to join the Foreign Service. She collected unemployment and crashed in the homes of caring friends. She took up open water swimming and immersed herself in adventures in San Francisco Bay and the English Channel.

She slogged through many jobs and relationships in many different places, and encountered both difficulties and delights. Eventually she married and started a family, and founded and ran several community organizations. Along the way she grieved the loss of several dear friends and beloved family members. And kept searching spiritually.

In the hero’s journey, Lori got to the stage where, despite her sense of calling, the road ahead felt unmarked and uncertain.

Actually, she reached this stage many times and each time experienced confusion, doubt and despair. (It didn’t help to keep hearing that classmates were moving towards seven figure jobs!) Then Lori left the workforce almost entirely, to guide and support her son, with his special learning needs, navigating the labyrinths of the school system and advocating for education reform.

Now, from the outside, none of this might sound particularly legendary (except if you’re a Mom who understands what it is to make sure your child gets the education s/he needs). Certainly Yale wasn’t calling her up to be a trustee.

But read on… fast-forward a few years to the present: Lori’s now in hot, steamy and booming Singapore, where her husband was transferred for his work.

She’s done some paid work, but, more than that, she has rediscovered a passion for creative expression through drawing and painting and is spending part of her time creating wonderful acrylics and loving the process of nurturing her inner artist.IMG_3230

She’s also fulfilling her dream of contributing internationally. She travels regularly to Cambodia – a country with which she has ties from the past.

She is helping to launch a Cambodian women’s initiative, which aims to connect Cambodian women and empower them to lead change in their communities, their nation and the world. This is both heart-work for her and tremendously important to the future direction of Cambodia.

Recently, Lori ran a strategic visioning retreat in Phnom Penh for a group of Cambodian women. She helped them to express their visions for themselves and their work – by creating images (pictorial triptychs) that conveyed their passions and hopes. The women sat together, painting and talking, pouring their hearts into their dreams and plans. Then Lori coached them on turning their pictures into concrete action steps to take after the meeting, both as individuals and as a collective.

I was blown away by what she was able to do. And what inspired me was that after years of staying underground, Lori’s calling is now out in the open.

Lori’s found a way to link art, creativity, and strategic planning, with her deep commitment to international development and justice for women. When she told me what she was doing, I cried. It was so Lori – truer than true.

She’s out in the open – living her legend.


The truth is that she was living it all along – as she made choices about her life, tolerated uncertainty, and gave up trying to “look successful” compared to her Yale classmates. Instead she listened to herself, searched for hints and rumors, remembered her values, made choices, and experienced some unexpected twists and accidents that helped her move forward.

That’s why you can’t always recognize someone who is living a legend, because a legendary path may be deeply hidden for years.

Maybe nobody but you will ever recognize yours. But it’s still yours to claim – that place where you can say, “I’m living consistent with my own deep knowing of who I am and what I’m meant to do.”

The great thing is that once you begin to find your legend, it’s not hard to find it in others.

These days I’m listening for legends – and discovering them everywhere. Send me your story – I know I’ll be inspired!

There’s been a lot of dark news recently – extended wars, ISIS, climate change, and disasters to name a few.

But for me, each authentic legend is like a sliver of light – cutting into that darkness – giving us just a little more room for hope.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Sally. Thanks for this. It’s encouraging at a time when I’m pretty down. Have started taking notes which I’m entitling “Reinvention.”

  2. Sally, I feel honored that you wrote about my journey. Thing is, in the midst of that journey (especially in the dark and twisty parts), my life didn’t feel like a legend. It felt like mess.

    Thank you for the reminder that all of us can transform our lives into legends, if only we tune into that voice of calling and trust its guidance. It’s simple but certainly not easy….

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