Living Your Legacy vs. Leaving a Legacy

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “leaving a legacy?” Well, when it comes to money, you might think about the ins-and-outs of estate plans, right?

Well, the truth is that that’s just one side of the big picture.

You see, too often, many of us get caught up in thinking about WHAT our money can do after we’re gone instead of HOW our the one we care about might actually use our wealth.

Indeed, legacy planning centered solely around money is simply a passive strategy built on the hope that your beneficiaries will take your pile of cash and hopefully do something good with it one day.

So then, what can you do if you truly want to use your money to make a dent in the universe?

Well, you can start by actively using your wealth today to intentionally form and cultivate relationships that last the test of time.

In other words, you can begin by “living your legacy” instead of planning to “leave a legacy.”

And why’s that important?

Well, that’s because cultivating healthy relationships is a key determinant of our emotional well-being. Ultimately, genuine connections, shared experiences, and mutual understanding form the core of enduring legacies.

In essence, a legacy built solely on cash can easily vanish, but one grounded in meaningful relationships stands the test of time.

You know, every day offers an opportunity to shape your legacy. And so, you can start today by cultivating healthy relationships, giving your money purpose, and laying the foundation for future wealth appreciation.

Legacy Goes Beyond Money

Alright, so if you’re still following along with me, then you’re likely in a unique position where you want to make a significant impact on the world. 

Sure, you could be the next Dale Carnegie and build schools and libraries or start a private foundation so that you can help future generations, but let’s pause for a moment and consider what truly defines a lasting legacy.

Is it the zeroes in your bank account? Is your legacy the assets that you’ve accumulated or the things they will buy?

Or is it something more profound, something more enduring?

Well, Merriam-Webster defines legacy as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor from the past.”

It’s About Relationships

To be sure, at the heart of any meaningful legacy lies the power of human connection. You know, it’s not just about the tangible assets you gather but the hearts you touch, the stories you inspire, and the memories you leave behind.

These are the echoes of your existence that will reverberate long after you’re gone.

In fact, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history, has shown us that close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives.

Indeed, in this famous study that spans nearly 90 years, university researchers periodically checked in on Harvard graduates to identify how they were doing in life. But, more specifically, they were trying to identify if there was a specific set of factors that influenced an individual’s well-being throughout life.

And you know what they found? Well, you guessed it.

It wasn’t their career, or money, or fame or notoriety. 

It was their relationships. 

And crucially, it was found that the health of these close relationships largely determined the well-being of the individuals being studied.

And why is this perspective important?

Well, the fact is that healthy relationships have shown the ability to protect people from life’s ups-and-downs, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.

And this emotional wealth, or rather the wealth of strong relationships and deep emotional connections, is truly priceless.

So then, when intentionally nurtured through time, what you have is a kind of wealth that gets passed down through generations. And not just as tales told around dinner tables but as values, traditions, and life lessons that shape the very fabric of our families and communities.

You know, the choices you make today can have a ripple effect through time. Just as a butterfly’s wings can set off a typhoon halfway around the world, a single act of kindness, a piece of wisdom shared, or a hand extended in support can have an unforeseen impact in the lives of others.

Indeed, the relationships you nurture today, the bonds you strengthen, and the communities you build have the potential to influence countless lives in the future.

And so, how can you use your wealth today to “live a legacy” instead of preparing to “leave a legacy?”

Wealth as a Experience Amplifier

Well, while that new gadget or luxury car might bring a fleeting sense of happiness, at the end of the day, it’s the experiences you invest in that truly shape your life and the lives of those around you. Think about it, when you look back on your life, it’s not the things you owned that stand out, but the moments you lived with others that are etched into your mind.

Indeed, it’s the family vacations, the surprise birthday parties, the spontaneous road trips that are the memories that become a part of your legacy narrative.

These events teach you, mold you, and give depth and meaning to your existence. So then, by using your wealth to invest in experiences, what you’re doing is not just buying a ticket to an event or a stay at a luxury resort, but rather, you’re investing in quality time with your loved ones that they’ll likely never forget.

So then, this act of using your wealth to create a presence, of truly being there in the moment, amplifies and strengthens bonds and creates memories that will be cherished and told over and over for generations.

Wealth as a Knowledge Amplifier

Now, another way that your wealth can amplify its effects on future generations is through investing in your family’s education.

And why is this this important?

Well, imagine the potential of a young mind given the right resources and the right guidance. Every dollar you put into scholarships or mentorship programs isn’t just funding a course or a semester, it’s potentially changing the trajectory of an individual’s life.

So then, what you’re doing is planting the seeds for the future and nurturing the leaders, thinkers, and innovators who will shape the world of tomorrow.

So, as you stand at the crossroads of decisions, as you contemplate the legacy you wish to leave behind, remember that the choices you make now, especially in cultivating and nurturing healthy relationships and investing in the education and well-being of the next generation, can create a legacy far more valuable and enduring than any material wealth.

In the end, your legacy isn’t just about what you leave behind, it’s about how you used your money to amplify the effects of the lives you touch, the futures you shape, and the world you change.

A Framework for Intention

Alright, so now that we’ve discussed what it means to live a legacy and how your wealth can amplify the positive effects on future generations, let’s talk about some ways you could go about living your legacy today.

Foundations: Family and Community

Now, one way to think about living your legacy is to imagine the foundation of your legacy as a home. 

You know, every great home, every lasting structure, starts with a solid foundation. And when it comes to your legacy, or how you will be remembered, your family and community are that foundation.

They are the roots of influence, and the very bedrock upon which your legacy stands.

Because, let’s face it: when you’re gone, your family and community will still be around to tell your story, and there’s nothing you can do to defend yourself after the fact.

So then, before you can hope to leave your impact on the world at large, it’s essential that those closest to you, including those at your family dinner table, or those in your community gatherings, are the first to bear witness to your values, adopt them, and carry them forward.

To be sure, before you can influence the world, you must first influence those closest to you. 

And how do you create influence with your family and community?

Well, this is where relationships come in.

Relationships: Create Structure for your Legacy

More specifically, we’ve discussed how family and community are the foundation of your legacy.

Now, think of relationships as the frame of this home. They are what give it structure and what hold it up.

And these relationships, when cultivated and nurtured over time, are the threads that intricately weave together the story of your legacy. They are what strengthen the bonds that transcend time and ensure that your influence remains even when you’re no longer physically present to make an impact.

And so, it’s the trust you build within these relationships that act as a guardian, or a custodian of your legacy, ensuring that the principles you’ve instilled are upheld and passed down through generations.

You know, your family and community are the foundational pillars upon which lasting legacies are built. They are the first to witness, adopt, and pass on the values and principles you hold dear. 

That’s why the lessons taught at the family dinner table or community gatherings often have the most profound and lasting impact on future generations.

Building Resilience Into Your Home

And so, now that you’ve laid the foundation with your family and your community, and you’ve built the walls that hold up your home with relationships, the next big question to consider is, “can your legacy stand the test of time?”

In other words, do you want to leave a legacy that others are willing to live themselves, or are you simply looking to leave behind a structure that future generations can look back at in awe?

Now, at this point, you’re likely asking yourself, “what are we talking about here?”

Well, this point becomes crystal clear when we think of the life of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

You know, when Vanderbilt amassed his fortune in the 19th century, some estimates say that his wealth could have been twice that of Jeff Bezos’ today, when adjusted for inflation.

And, arguably, Vanderbilt’s success was a product of his ability to navigate this environment, combined with his personal drive, ambition, and luck.

But, with all that said, as you move down the generational line, the context starts to change.

That’s because the descendants of Cornelius Vanderbilt were born into privilege. And unlike their forebear, they didn’t experience the same struggles or need to cultivate the same entrepreneurial spirit.

In other words, Cornelius left behind the money for his family to enjoy, but didn’t offer much in the way of structure.

Now, this isn’t to say they his family was inherently flawed or lazy, but rather that their social context was vastly different. That’s because they were raised in a world of opulence, where their immediate need to innovate or hustle was less pronounced.

More crucially, however, the Vanderbilt descendants were likely left without an ability to form or build resilience, and, as a result, much of the Vanderbilt wealth no longer exists today.

You see, it’s one thing to have a solid foundation, but what makes a house a home is the energy that you bring into it to encourage future generations to paint the walls, decorate the interior and bring warmth and delight that comes with traditions and celebrations that get enjoyed by one generation to the next.

So then, when we’re talking about the very heartbeat and engine of living a legacy, it needs to include a focus on values, principles, and work ethic.

And how does this approach fit into the broader context of a legacy?

Values Shape the Direction of Future Generations

Well, imagine that you’re setting out on a journey to a place you’ve never been to before. Here then, without a clear context or understanding of the kind of behavior expected in this new environment, your values and principles act as your moral compass, guiding every step you take.

But more crucially, however, your chosen values and principles, the ones you share and impart with your family and community, light the way for those who follow in your footsteps. It teaches them how to navigate similar experiences in the future.

You know, it’s one thing to create the foundations of a solid legacy, but without guidance or instruction that future generations can depend on, your legacy likely won’t last very long.

Indeed, as you navigate the ups and downs of life, the values and principles you pick up along the way can become the timeless teachings that you pass on. And so, while material wealth may wane, these teachings that you pass down are eternal, and continue to guide and influence others long after you’ve shared them.

So, when you think about your legacy, understand that it’s more than just a reflection of you. It’s a roadmap for others. It’s a way to ensure that the wisdom you’ve gained, the values you hold dear, and the work ethic you’ve cultivated don’t just end with you.

These values that you’re sharing, they ripple outwards, influencing and inspiring others, shaping destinies, and driving lasting change. Your legacy, then, is your gift to the future. It’s a testament to the belief that we can, and should, leave the world better than we found it.

Creating a Lasting Legacy

Alright, so now that we’ve talked about what living a legacy means and how family, relationships, and values form a lasting role, the big question now is how exactly do you step into the director’s chair in this production called ‘Your Legacy’?

Crafting a Vision for Your Legacy

Well, first things first, you have to start with a compelling vision.

And why is vision important for a legacy?

Well, crafting a compelling vision for your legacy is like setting a course for a ship’s journey.

Without a clear direction, the ship may drift aimlessly, and so the same can be said for the impact you wish to leave behind.

That’s why, when you define a powerful vision for your legacy, you’re not just thinking about the here and now. You’re also considering the long-term ripple effects of your actions and intentions.

So then, your vision serves as a beacon, guiding your decisions, actions, and investments. And it ensures that the resources you allocate, whether they’re time, money, or effort, align with the lasting impact you wish to create.

And so, how do you go about doing this work?

Well, you can start by asking yourself, “Beyond professional achievements, how do I want to be remembered?”

Do you want to be remembered for groundbreaking work in your industry? 

Or maybe, you want to be remembered for inspiring a generation to challenge traditional norms?

By being intentional about your vision, what you’re doing is setting sights on a guiding light, or a touchstone that can shape the lives of those who come after you.

Documenting Your Legacy

The next thing that you’ll want to do is to document your journey.

Now, this might sound like a trite or insignificant step, but documenting your journey is a pivotal step because this remembrance serves as the script of your legacy, offering invaluable insights to future generations.

And so, when you embark on the journey of documenting your life, you’re not just penning down events or milestones, what you’re doing is capturing the essence of experiences, lessons, and values that have shaped your life.

How much different could the lives of Vanderbilts have been had they had the ability to understand what made Cornelius tick?

Indeed, you can think of this journaling as a bridge that you’re building between the past, present, and future. And so, by chronicling your journey, what you’re doing is providing future generations with a window into your world, and offering them insights that might otherwise be lost with time.

How so?

Well, imagine all the countless decisions you’ve made, or the challenges you’ve overcome, and the moments of joy and sorrow you’ve experienced.

Each of these actions has contributed to the person you’ve become, right?

So then, by documenting these moments, what you’re doing is giving your descendants the opportunity to learn from your wisdom, to understand the context of their heritage, and to draw inspiration from your resilience and achievements.

Strategic Legacy Planning

And now, the last thing you’ll want to consider as you build out the framework for your legacy is to consider strategic legacy planning.

Now, strategic legacy planning is like charting a course for a ship that you won’t be captaining.

You know that house that you’re building? It’s a maintenance script you’re leaving behind for future generations.

Here, it’s about ensuring that the wealth, values, and vision you’ve amassed over your lifetime are not just passed on, but they’re also stewarded and amplified in the ways you intend.

And why is this important?

Well, without a strategic plan, even the most significant legacies can dissipate, be mismanaged, or be misunderstood by subsequent generations.

Indeed, recall our earlier example of Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the wealthiest individuals in history.

Despite his immense wealth, the Vanderbilt fortune saw a significant decline over the years. And, within a few decades, some of his descendants found themselves penniless, without the vast resources that once defined the Vanderbilt name.

Now, imagine if Vanderbilt had engaged in strategic legacy planning.

He could have set up structures, trusts, or foundations to ensure that his wealth was not only preserved but also used in ways that aligned with his vision and values.

At the same time, he could have provided guidance on business management, investments, and philanthropy, ensuring that his descendants had the knowledge and tools to maintain and grow the family’s assets.

And with a strategic plan in place, Vanderbilt could have instilled a sense of purpose and responsibility in his heirs. So then, his heirs would have been better equipped to handle their family fortune because they truly understood its origins, its intended impact, and their role in its stewardship.

And you know, this could have fostered a culture of responsibility, innovation, and philanthropy within the family, that ensured that the Vanderbilt legacy remained strong and influential for many more generations.

In essence, strategic legacy planning is not just about asset preservation, it’s also about ensuring that your legacy, in all its facets, continues to thrive and positively influence others, long after you’re gone.

How to Avoid Leaving a Failed Legacy

You know, when we talk about legacy, it’s easy to think of it as something that comes into play only at the end of our journey. But in reality, legacy is an ongoing process shaped by our daily actions and choices.

Indeed, legacy isn’t just about what you leave behind after you’re gone, it’s about the impact you make while you’re still here. It’s the sum of your actions, big and small, and how they impact the lives of others.

So then, as you go about your day, think about the kind of legacy you want to leave behind and how you can make a positive difference in the lives of others right now and for generations to come. 

That’s because you never know how the choices you make today will one day help future generations take one step closer to becoming the masters of their own financial independence journeys.