As a stay-at-home mom, I used to dread meeting new people at social events. After initial pleasantries, so often the exchange would come to an awkward, grinding halt when they asked me, “…and what do you do?”
Though I loved raising my children at home, I found this occupation to be an immediate conversation stopper. I grew to anticipate the polite smiles, knowing nods, protracted sips of wine, and eyes darting for the nearest exit.
I became an expert at vanishing in situations where “what I did” was more important than who I was, what I thought, or how I felt.
I have never regretted the choice to stay home and raise my children, though, to be sure, I could have used the equivalent of Conversation Hints from Heloise for Moms. Yes, I was a Mom. And I knew I was so much more.
In our culture – where we are often defined and identified by what we do – it’s easy to lose sight of who we are and how we want to be remembered.
As large swaths of our lives shrink further into the rearview mirror, each of us has an opportunity to define – or redefine – who we are and what we want to be remembered for.
More than ever, in our 60s and beyond, it’s important to feel relevant, to feel that we matter, to mine the gems of our brief history here so that the “who we are” comes before the “what we did.” This can be an exhilarating time of liberation from labels.
Often retirement and legacy are terms that go hand in hand. We take stock of where we’ve been and wonder what lies ahead. Many of my clients facing retirement come to me with an overwhelming sense of identity loss, having been defined by their jobs, professions, or other labels for decades.
One of my clients put it this way: “Retirement is great and all, but when I was a teacher, I felt like I was somebody. Like I had a purpose. Now I feel like a nobody. Like I’m invisible.” She’s not alone.
The key is to recognize that you’ve been you all along. Your career accomplishments are an outward manifestation of the personal qualities you hold as an individual.
A long list of achievements is admirable and certainly something to be proud of. Yet, it is how you achieved your success that people will remember – and this is how your legacy is shaped.
If you worked for a company, you were required to toe the policy line and, depending on what those rules were, you may have felt restricted in how much of “you” could show up in different situations.
Often managers cannot interact in a personal way with those they are responsible for. I’ve discovered that those in charge often feel the most isolated – needing to hold boundaries while their employees are able to talk with each other freely.
Whether you were an employee, manager, or owner, each position held certain limitations. Stepping away from specific roles offers immense freedom to discover our essence and live from an unrestricted genuineness of spirit.
Your personal qualities aren’t left behind at your desk. They follow you into creating your next steps beyond the workplace.
We remember people for their stories, for how we felt being with them, for their successes, their frailties, for the obstacles they overcame, for the very human qualities we relate to. We remember them for who they are.
While we may be drawn to all aspects of a celebrity or a public figure’s life, including the details of their resume, a person’s legacy is less about what they did than who they were. We can choose to bring the strengths that we took to the workplace into how we live our lives each day.
How we choose to live our lives each and every day creates our legacy.
A memoir can be viewed as a written account of an event in your life that had meaning for you. What’s important is how it made you feel, what lessons you may have taken away, how your life was shaped by the event.
Author Abigail Thomas writes that, “Memoir is the story about how we got here from there.” Agreed. Compelling memoir is honest, relatable, a window into how you have embraced your life.
As such, it can become a legacy for your children, siblings, family, friends, a glimpse into your humanness… and a way to recalibrate your sense of self.
I urge my clients to write about times in their lives worthy of a second look. This time around with a sense of curiosity, as an observer.
Thinking back, without the charge of emotions surrounding an event, can offer a renewed and more objective perspective that opens the door to understanding, wisdom, empathy, and – ultimately – healing.
It re-awakens what’s most important to you, enabling you to fully step into your power, your authentic self, and create a legacy worthy of you. A life well-lived.
How do you frame your life – as a detailed resume of what you did, a rich tapestry of who you are, or a compelling memoir embracing both what you did and who you became as a result? How would you like to be remembered? What times in your life deserve a second look through the lens of memoir? Please share with our community!