Leaving a Legacy

I’m getting to an age where a person starts to wonder what others might think of him when he’s gone. Mid-life crisis? Maybe, maybe not. However, since I’ve never been eager to have kids (at this or any age) and because I’ve done most of my work for other people, I’m left to wonder how might I contribute to the world before I get too old to do so. If you’re of an age where such thoughts have started to occur to you, read on. If you’re young yet, you might find this interesting going forward. Maybe it will give you some ideas.

Personal Giving & Philanthropy

If your finances are such that you’ve got assets others might want after you die, it is worth your time to make a will and make your wishes known to others (I spent around $250 here in Orange County, FL, for a will and medical instructions for doctors, so it’s not a break-the-bank item). I’ve got the bulk of my single-male estate (such as it is) going to various family members. I also have added specific bequests of personal items to various individuals, which the lawyer dutifully noted in said will.

However, in addition to those items, I am able to set a little bit of my estate aside for others who are not members of my family: the local library, charitable organizations, and my most recent university, with the intention of benefitting those groups in some way after I pass on.

You might have your own charities or causes of choice, from places of worship to advocacy organizations. Placing a specific bequest in your will or estate planning makes your intention to give more official and more real. And once the bequest is there, you can think about adding to it. Or, if the bequest is large enough, you can specify exactly what you want the funds to be used for. Generally, nonprofit organizations are perpetually cash-strapped, so they always appreciate donations that go to the general fund. However, you might also have a very specific purpose in mind for your money. There is no harm in that; it’s just up to you or your lawyer to inform the receiving organization about your intentions and stipulations.

Teach/Mentor

I started this blog seven years ago. I’ve looked at this as an exercise in “paying it forward,” meaning more or less that I’m trying to find a way to offer useful advice to young technical writers coming into the workforce behind me who might need input or help as badly as I did coming out of college.

Depending on your work experience and credentials, you might be able to teach at the local community college or give a set of talks on your particular area of expertise. Teaching college courses do require a lot of preparation time and, as an adjunct professor, the financial reward might not meet your expectations after working full time, if your motivation is to cash in on your experience. However, if you’re passionate and interesting in the way you teach your subject, you will make (some, anyway, not all) the students in your room grateful that they are not getting a lot of boring lectures.

You could also consider formal mentoring within the organization where you are working now or an internal training session or two where you download your “wisdom” to peers. If you are closer to retirement than I am, you might consider this activity one more chance to make a good impression on the people with whom you’ve worked.

Create

This could take many forms, but the ultimate goal of any act of creation is to leave something worthwhile of yourself behind for others to remember you. It could be a work of fiction. It could be literal art: painting, sculpture, music, cinema.

One of your legacies could be a work nonfiction–a project I’m attempting now–where you dispense your wisdom to those who come after. Your audience might appreciate that you’ve created a useful guide or something of sentimental value to family and friends just because it came from you.

What We Leave Behind, Closing Thoughts

Ultimately, the value of anything you leave behind for those who come after you will have a great deal to do with how you behaved as a person while alive and doing your thing. Therefore, a lot of how your parting gift(s) is/are received will depend partly on the nature of the gift and partly on how you treated the recipient prior to your departure. Think of your legacy as your ability to extend, leverage, or improve upon your reputation after you’re out of the workforce.

In the end, “legacy thinking” comes down to “How do I want others to remember me after I’m gone?” If such things matter to you, you can give some them some thought and effort. If you don’t give a damn about what others think of you, best of luck: odds are you aren’t reading this article anyhow.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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