What is My Legacy? A Key Question in the Second Half of Life
What is my legacy? In other words, what will be the impact of my life on others, and on the world?
It’s certainly a question that grows in importance for me, the longer that I’m alive. I think that it becomes more important for most reflective people in the second half of life, as they travel further on life’s journey.
Some think of legacy as the things that they pass to other people after they die. — their material legacy. Yet legacy is much broader. It concerns the impact that our lives have on the lives of others — and continue to have on others long after we’re physically gone. In this broader sense, it’s very much tied up with the overall question of the meaning of our lives, with questions like What difference has my life made? and How will I be remembered?
On Saturday, U.S. Senator John McCain died. Without getting political, allow me to say that this is a man with whom I have little in common politically. Yet, like many people who didn’t share his views, I have immense respect for him. In his political life, and his personal life, Sen. McCain embodied a strong will to go in his own unique direction. Yet, he combined this with a deep level of respect, courtesy and openness towards others. He demonstrated this in his presidential contest with Barack Obama, but these attitudes marked his whole approach to political and personal life. He will influence others for a long time to come.
Living out Legacy
We should live to express who we most fundamentally are. To find what’s distinctive to ourselves, and to live it out is a matter of central importance for our well-being, and our sense of connection with our true identity. As Cal State Prof. Loretta Breuning puts it,
You are hard-wired to care about what you leave behind when you’re gone. Animals focus on making babies… [Yet,] your unique individual essence can live on in myriad ways. The neurochemistry that drives animals to promote their genes is what drives you to care about your legacy.
To express ourselves. To be in the world and to be ourselves. Something hardwired in us — or, as Jung would say, archetypal — drives us to do this.
Showing Up — Or Not
If we have no idea of who we are and what we want, the legacy we give to others, including to those near and beloved by us, will be nothing other than muddy and unclear. If I’m governed by other people’s opinions for my whole life, afraid to express and live out who I most fundamentally am, then I can expect that my legacy will be pretty mediocre, without a lot of the real “me” in it. If I don’t ever take the risk of being vulnerable and expressing myself — “putting myself out there” — as they say, then I can expect that people may not react very much to my presence in the world.
Or, they may be strongly influenced by the way I haven’t been in the world. As Jung states in at famous quote,
Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”
What we have not lived out in our own life, our unlived life may become our legacy, sometimes with quite a negative effect.
What is MY Legacy?
Even if we’re not famous figures, the potential exists to influence the people in our sphere, and to make a contribution to greater consciousness and connection. This is a fundamental aspect of human reality as Jung notes,
If you are a gifted person, it doesn’t mean that you gained something. It means you have something to give back.
Jung is not just referring to Einstein and Mozart when he writes about giftedness. In an important sense, Jung sees each of us as gifted with our own unique self, our potential for our own unique awareness, and our own unique capacity to express that awareness in some way or other.
Beginning to explore our unique legacy, and how to express it is a key part of our human journey. Depth case studies can be of immense help in connecting us with the unexplored and unexpressed aspects of ourselves, bringing fulfillment, meaning and joy in our life journey.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)