You have a life story. Giving is part of your story—a part of your legacy. First, let’s talk about your legacy.
The person you are becoming is as important as the person you were yesterday, last year or a decade ago. The life story you weave changes as events change us. Perhaps your life story changed even more as the pandemic changed how we work, play, socialize, shop and worship. As this year comes to a close and the next begins, it is a perfect time to look back at the story your life has become—while peering into the foggy future.
Our lives swing between good and bad moments, successes and failures and from the easiest to the most significant challenges. Our life story is not found in the highs and lows. It happens somewhere in-between. The legacy we leave are the actions—the examples we set—intended and unintended.
Legacy is a fuzzy word with legal and formal definitions that leave most of us untouched. It might be an inheritance of property or money left in an estate, or just left in a bank account. It could be a purposeful gift, a family tradition passed down from one generation to the next, or the opportunity to attend a college as a legacy student just because a parent attended before you.
Lost in those definitions are the rich stories intertwined with what was given or left behind. The stories are the real legacy. Every single person you know, read or hear about has a legacy. And until the day that person takes their last breath on this earth, they are crafting the next chapter.
Inspiring and real-life stories fill the pages of this magazine. As readers, it is easy to empathize with the ups and downs of their lives and even admire their decisions. Every single story in this issue is only a part of that person’s legacy, just as your story is only a part of the legacy you are leaving right now. Since your real legacy is not only about your past, but equally about your future, you have an opportunity to set a new course or make a small shift. Right now, might be your best opportunity to do a reset.
I started reading biographies as soon as I was old enough to pick out my books. I am fascinated by the lives of others. I am keenly interested in the differences between life stories written as biographies and those same life stories written as autobiographies. The legacy a person hopes to leave is most likely found in the autobiography, while the legacy they left is in the stories described through other eyes. Any writer will tell you, the best place to start understanding someone is from the stories they wrote and left behind along with the real-life example of actions and decisions.
Start your autobiography by answering these questions:
• As you look back at your life, what were the high points and the low points? • If there was a moment of transition, what was it? Your choice or caused by outside forces? • Can you look back and see clear turning points • What was the most meaningful moment of your life? • What cause did you give to by volunteering or making financial gifts? Why did you care about the cause?
Remember, your legacy is the many actions that surround all those events. Look at your answers, take another piece of paper and explain how each affected your actions and decisions. Now you’re well into chapter two of your autobiography. If you are breathing, you are crafting your story—your legacy. So, what if you want to change your story, add to your legacy? What do you want to be a part of your story you’ve yet to act out?
Every day, we hear and read predictions about the changes growing out of this pandemic. For most of us, the word pandemic was merely part of an occasional history lesson.
I’ve grown weary of new normal talk. I like a different word thrown around right now. It draws me to the possibility of what can be: a reset. Reset is not a do-over. It’s a change, like an alteration, a reformation, a remodel. It starts right where you are and looks to a future you want to create. It’s resetting your current self, becoming what is remembered.
Giving is often a central theme of legacy discussions, centering on the legal details of a bequest or estate planning. It focuses on the details of leaving something behind: giving valuables, property, money, and real estate. Still looking backward, it represents a small fraction of your real legacy.
What role do you want giving to play in your legacy story looking forward? Does giving look like volunteering at nonprofits serving others, donating to favorite causes, serving
on community boards? Is giving connected to your faith? Is giving the act of informally sharing what you have learned with family and friends, or audiences small or large. Writing or speaking?
The reset opportunity is before us. Now, is our chance to imagine the unlived legacy and then craft intentional actions for the future.
Bruce Feller, the author of Life is in the Transitions, says people choose different shapes that represent the patterns of our lives when asked to describe their life story.
I interviewed a couple who visualized their giving as a river that ran through different causes in different ways and at different times. Sometimes a slow-moving lazy river giving as opportunities arose, other times, fast and full of rapids, giving to get something done or be a part of immediate impact. The giving season is upon us, and we have many opportunities to connect with the causes we care about. Every gift is part of your story—it is like a river that runs through your legacy, slow or fast, it is your story—your legacy. You decide.
Dawn Franks, the author of the e-book Giving Fingerprints, is CEO of Your Philanthropy. She provides high touch advising services to families, businesses, and foundations to enhance the giving experience and maximize impact.