There are many approaches to working with people. Some of these focus on the human drive to leave a legacy.
The strength philosophy sometimes mirrors this approach. It focuses on how a person can use their strengths to encourage both present and future generations.
Stephen Covey brought the legacy approach to popular attention with his book First Things First. Co-authored with Roger and Rebecca Merrill, it had the subtitle: To Live, to Love, to Learn, to Leave a Legacy.
As is the case with models, people began adding to this list. They maintained it was important for people to laugh and spread happiness. Others added other ideas as the model developed.
Stephen Covey acknowledged the influence of Viktor Frankl, who wrote about people’s drive to fulfil their meaning. Writing after his liberation from the Nazi Concentration Camps, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning said:
“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfilment.”
Looking further back, some people highlighted similar life themes in an old poem called Success. Wall posters of this inspiring poem attributed it to either Ralph Waldo Emerson or Robert Louis Stevenson, but there is no record of either writing it.
The poem was eventually found to have been written by Bessie Anderson Stanley. She wrote it in essay form for a competition run by the Brown Book Magazine in 1904. Readers were invited to write 100 words or less to answer the question 'What is success?'
Her winning essay was later converted into the following poem. (There are also several versions of this ‘original’.) It again highlights the importance of choosing to live, love, laugh and leave a legacy.
He has achieved success who has lived well,
laughed often and loved much;
who has gained the respect of intelligent men
and the love of little children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it,
whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty
or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others
and given them the best he had;
whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.
The Desire to Create a Legacy
Human beings have always wanted to pass on a legacy. This has taken many forms – some more positive than others.
From the 1990s onwards it became more common for people, teams and organisations to talk about creating a legacy. This was particularly so when, for example, bidding for sporting events, such as the Olympic Games.
Looking at societies as a whole, some have thought ahead to care for future generations. Some Native American tribes made decisions based on thinking about the Seventh Generation. Others have looked ahead to the next financial quarter.
When it comes to individuals, many have asked the eternal questions. These include:
“What is my purpose? How can I translate this into practice? How can I pass on a positive legacy?”
Over the past two centuries these questions have also been linked to studying human needs. This has led to creating many models regarding how people can satisfy their physical, psychological and philosophical needs.
These existential themes have been explored by some of the greatest names in psychology. These include, for example, William James, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Charlotte Buhler, Viktor Frankl, Virginia Satir, Rollo May and Erich Fromm.
Such themes have also influenced people who have focused on pursuing one’s vocation. Looking at the strengths field, you can find it in the work of people such as Bernard Haldane, Don Clifton and Martin Seligman.
Let’s assume that somebody wants to work towards leaving a positive legacy. There are many approaches to help them to achieve such goals.
Some involve exercises that talk about purpose, mission, life goals or other terms. But most take the form of inviting the person to focus on:
* The ‘What’ – the specific results they want to achieve.
* The ‘Why’ – the specific benefits of achieving these results.
* The ‘How’ and ‘When’ – the specific things they will do on road towards achieving the results.
So they may complete something like the following exercise.
Working Towards Leaving A Legacy
Many people are able clarify their personal or professional legacy. But then comes the challenge of achieving these goals.
Spiritual faiths offer their own views on how to live a fulfilling life. During the past two centuries, however, many people from different fields have offered their views.
One approach has been developed by people who built on the philosophy expressed in First Things First. This book encouraged people to live, love, learn and leave a legacy.
Since then people have added more ideas. One of these, for example, is to Labour – to translate the things you love doing into your labours of love. This also involves sweating – but in a joyful way – on the road to leaving a legacy.
One further addition stemmed from the work of Carl Honoré, who wrote In Praise of Slow. He believes that modern societies are addicted to speed. But going faster does not always produce well being, happiness and good decision making.
Carl believes that in some areas of life it may be useful to go even faster. But in many others it is important to slow down and appreciate life. Slowing down also gets us to focus on the life-long questions.
What are we here for? Are we here to go faster and make more money? Or are we here to appreciate life and safeguard the planet for future generations? Maybe the real question is:
How can we help people to be healthy and build a healthy planet?
Carl maintains that Slow Thinking plays a part in making good decisions. Fast Thinking is required to gather the pieces of the jigsaw. But most of our epiphanies come from Slow Thinking. The key is to get the right blend in our life and work.
Looking at the road towards leaving a legacy, people are therefore invited to Linger – to appreciate life and experiences. (Another version of this theme is: ‘Stop to smell the roses.’) Also, when appropriate, to allocate the right amount of time to making good decisions. This often involves focusing on what is really important.
Alice Herz-Sommer, the musician and oldest survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, continued to be optimistic well past the age of 100. Looking back, she said:
“I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times – including my husband, my mother and my beloved son. Yet, life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy. I have no space nor time for pessimism and hate.”
“And life is beautiful, love is beautiful, nature and music are beautiful. Everything we experience is a gift, a present we should cherish and pass on to those we love.”
And the secret of her happiness:
“To focus on what is important – what is really important.”
Bearing these factors in mind, different people will focus on different themes on the road to leaving their chosen legacy. This may involve them exploring some of the following areas.
Imagine that a person has clarified their goals. Whilst they may happy with their progress towards, there may also be areas where they want to improve.
If appropriate, it can therefore be useful for them to tackle the following exercise. Bearing in mind the themes we have explored – to live, love, learn, laugh, linger, labour and leave a legacy – this invites them to describe two things.
* To describe the specific area they want to work on.
* To describe the specific things they would like to do in this area.
There are many ways of focusing on a person’s legacy. The strengths approach sometimes includes elements of existential psychology.
Strengths coaching sessions often start by clarifying the person’s aims. These can be their short, medium or long-term goals. Good coaches then provide practical tools the person can use to achieve their picture of success.
* Stephen Covey.
Here is a link to the Stephen Covey site.
* Viktor Frankl.
The official site about his work and legacy.
* Carl Honoré.
This takes you to Carl’s site and information on Slow Thinking.
* Alice Herz-Sommer.
These links provide more information about her philosophy of life.