Does crafting your legacy story sound daunting? It doesn’t have to be. I’ll share a few ideas for starting small! Whatever you create will be a gift to your family, your friends and, most importantly, to you.
My mother didn’t like to talk about her past. When she died, the memories of her experiences and the lessons she had gained from life died with her.
I wish I’d asked more questions years ago before dementia crept in and leached away part of her formerly intelligent, engaged mind. Even a little bit of her legacy, written down, would be a treasure today.
You may be thinking, “But, I’m going to be around for a while,” and I certainly hope that you will be. But life comes with no promises.
And part of the magic of working on your legacy story is that it can prepare you to make the most of the life still ahead of you.
If the word legacy sounds intimidating, don’t make it so big. Tell yourself, “I’m just drafting a letter to myself that I might share with a friend.”
Starting on your legacy story can help you:
Imagine what it would be like if you had a letter from a favorite aunt or friend offering a story from her life and a few truths she’d learned along the way. Chances are, you’d treasure it forever.
As you start out writing, don’t try to be comprehensive. We’re not talking memoir or trying to sustain a coherent narrative across dozens of pages. Let’s start small, with one specific memory, vignette or scene you remember.
In a podcast interview, storyteller and counselor Juliet Bruce suggests:
“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? What music played around the birth of your child?’ Get people into their senses, their sense memories, and whole beautiful stories of decades emerge.”
Think about one memory, event or scene. Write for a few minutes. That’s all. If you want to send it to a friend or family member you can add how much they mean to you or a blessing.
As you become more fluent writing up memories, you can reach out to someone with whom you’d like to reconcile. Share about a good experience with them, and then offer a short apology for your part in any misunderstanding you might have had.
You may not fix the past, but your whole-hearted blessing to another could open the door to a renewed relationship. It’s not too late to try!
We often think of a legacy story as one that is passed down to another generation. But that’s not all it can be. You can write for your eyes only, acknowledging choices you made and discovering your own meanings from life events.
Don’t judge, just notice and appreciate as you would the life of a beloved friend.
A good friend of mine wrote her legacy story in the form of a metaphoric legend, using the archetype of the “Hero’s Journey” as background to her work.
She wrote about her calling, challenges, events and people she met along the way. She described the monsters and muses who had accompanied her. She discovered a few themes that traversed her varied experiences.
Most of all, she had fun with it. Then she shared it with her family and friends. Her story helped launch engaging conversations, and she gained some creative insights about the future she hoped to create.
Here’s one way NOT to start: don’t ask, “What’s my legacy story?” That question is too big and vague. That’s why it’s more useful to start with memories of specific incidents and people who have moved you.
Your heart is a better storyteller 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’ve used for job interviews – or when someone actually listens to you for more than five minutes at a party or networking event – your legacy doesn’t need shine.
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.
Juliet Bruce, mentioned above, uses the Hero’s Journey formula of challenge and redemption in working with clients.
She said, “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.”
That’s what your legacy story can do for you: reveal what is fundamental and good about you and help you celebrate that whatever mistakes you made, you lived a life of dignity and worth.
Just remember, don’t wait. Your story matters – and there’s someone longing to hear more about it… That person might even be you!
What do you think about writing your legacy story? Have you started on such a project? If so, what are the highlights so far? If not, what’s holding you back from making a start? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.