Warning: 6 Signs Your Legacy Will End Up In A Trash Can

“How’s it going?” I asked my dad as I entered the garage. He’d spent all morning cleaning it out so we could pull the boats in for the winter.

“Oh, fine,” he replied sounding exasperated and tired. “Look at this,” he continued holding up some tool that appeared to be either some type of hand saw or a torture device.

“What is it?” I asked. Anybody who knows me also knows that I’m the least handy person in the world. It’s actually a joke among friends and family. I usually ask my wife Lisa to fix stuff. Or my brother if he’s in the area.

“I don’t know. It looks like some sort of hand saw,” he said making the motion he assumed one would make if using the thing. “It was one of my dad’s tools.” He looked at it a second longer, chuckled half-heartedly, then tossed the saw into a bucket that was piled with more tools I couldn’t name (let alone use).

He must have seen me staring at the bucket because he went on to tell me that he was finally going through all of his dad’s tools and would either find someone to gift them to or he’d just throw them out.

It wasn’t until later that evening, in a conversation with my mom, that the gravity of this struck me. She explained that, as a kid, my dad wasn’t allowed to touch these tools. Doing so would elicit a beating. Even as an adult, my grandfather wasn’t fond of him going near them. Now, five or so years after my grandfather’s death, my dad was touching the very things that were so important to his dad – but he was getting rid of them.

This was part of the legacy my grandfather left. I loved my grandfather, but this is a lousy legacy.

Will Your Legacy Fit in a Trash Can?

I wrestled with this thought over the following days. I actually outlined this post a couple of weeks ago – two days after this conversation. But I’ve been sitting on it because it’s so personal. And painful.

And important.

You see, we all leave a legacy. Some are painful. Some are sad. Others are forgettable. A select few are great. My dad’s legacy will be great.

I also want to leave a great legacy – one that can’t be piled into a bucket and thrown away. But great legacies don’t just happen. Great legacies are made through intentional dreaming, turned into goals, which then lead to action.

If you don’t intentionally create your legacy, what you leave to your kids and grandkids will be little more than a collection of “things” that fit in a trash can and act as a reminder to people of a life not lived with purpose and intention.

If you’re still breathing, it’s not too late to change the legacy you’ll leave behind. We can’t undo the past, but we can take responsibility for it and take corrective and deliberate action for the future.

So what are the warning signs that you’re creating a legacy that will end up in a trash can?

Warning #1 – You Think Your Legacy is About You

You’re going to die. If your legacy is about you, it will die with you. Leaving a legacy is about impacting the lives of those you come in contact with (for better or worse) so that they carry a part of you forward. The sooner you understand that legacy is about relationships, the more time you will have to impact the relationships that matter most.

I’ve ranked mine as follows: Lisa (wife), kids (whenever they come – it’s a placeholder ;-)), parents, family, friends, business partners/clients/audience. The steps I take to make a positive impact on those relationships will vary. But one thing is for sure, if at any point those relationships become about me, I will cease building a legacy that’s great.

Warning #2 – You Don’t Begin With the End

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey wrote, “Begin with the end in mind.” This is sound advice for those who want to leave a great legacy. Most people never spend time thinking about how they want to be remembered by the ones they most cared about after they’re gone.

But this is exactly where you need to start. What do you want your spouse to remember about you? What about your kids? Your friends? Your business partners and clients? The list goes on. If you don’t know how you want to be remembered, you won’t know where you’re going and how to get there.

A map is useless without a destination.

Warning #3 – You Don’t Honestly Evaluate Where You Are

A map is also useless if you don’t know where you are – even if you do know where you want to go. This takes a level of self-honesty that most people find too painful. If you’re not willing to take an honest look at the mistakes you’ve made and the person you are, you’ll never become the person you say you want to be.

This also isn’t about piling on the shame and guilt. It’s about admitting where you’ve fallen short, asking for forgiveness where necessary, and making different decisions moving forward. Some people will have longer roads to travel than others. However, the reward for those who do this step is greater than you can imagine.

Warning #4 – You Don’t Create Goals

If you don’t have goals, you won’t leave a great legacy. Once you know where you want to go and where you are, you have to create goals that will get you to your destination.

There is a vast difference between dreams and goals. Dreams usually sound like this: “One day, I hope to start my own business.” I’m sorry, but, “hope” doesn’t get you anywhere – action does. Businesses don’t just happen. Legacies don’t just happen. Relationships don’t just happen. Money doesn’t just materialize in the bank. You have to make it happen.

So what are you doing to make things happen?

Goals are actionable steps you can measure that move you closer to your dream. You need to always have a set of goals that you’re working on every day. Then constantly review and update them to make sure they’re still in alignment with what you ultimately want out of life.

Warning #5 – You Don’t Take Risks

Creating a great legacy will require taking some risks. I’m not necessarily referring to skydiving or entrepreneurship – though these are certainly fine risks for some people. I’m talking about risks that are personal to you. Books aren’t written about people who “played it safe.” Stories aren’t told at family reunions about “safe” Uncle Joe. Yet so many people play it safe.

Why? Because of fear. What we fail to realize is that there is healthy fear and unhealthy fear. If we don’t distinguish one from the other, we act as if all fear is the same. It’s not.

Fear can be a good thing. Hold a gun to my head, and I’ll be afraid. Hold a gun to Lisa’s head, and I’ll be afraid. In these types of situations, fear is a healthy response intended to heighten our senses and keep us alive.

Unfortunately, fear also pops up every time I’m about to hit “Publish” on one of my blog posts. Every. Single. Time. What if nobody likes my post? What if nobody reads it? What if it causes everyone to unsubscribe? I’ll never get another chance. And on and on it goes. This is irrational and unhealthy fear that many call F.E.A.R. – False Evidence Appearing Real.

I don’t know who coined the acronym, but I love what Brian Clark wrote about F.E.A.R. is his post titled Is F.E.A.R. Holding You Back?:

F.E.A.R. is an illusion. Something we fabricate in our own minds and pretend is real. It’s a fairy tale we tell ourselves that keeps us from doing what we really want.

Did you catch that? It keeps us from doing what we really want. We often use F.E.A.R. as a signal for what we shouldn’t do rather than as an indicator for precisely what we should do. In reality, we’re confusing the feelings of fear and anxiety. What you’re really feeling when you think you feel fear is anxiety.

I don’t know if that feeling ever goes away. I know that, for me, it hasn’t. Truthfully, I kind of hope it doesn’t. Not because I enjoy the feeling (I don’t). But because it reminds me that I’m pushing myself and testing my limits. And that’s what real risk is – the kind that allows you to build a great legacy. If you continue to push and test your limits in spite of the F.E.A.R., you will be that much closer to leaving a legacy you can be proud of.

Warning #6 – You Settle

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may have noticed a phrase appearing in more of my posts. The phrase? “Don’t Settle.” In fact, it’s now become my mission statement for this blog and for my life. My goal is to help people get to the point in their lives where they don’t settle any longer for a mediocre and average existence. We were created for a purpose. We were created to do great things.

Unfortunately, too many of us settle for far less than what we’re capable of. It’s easier to settle. It’s easier to give in to the F.E.A.R. It’s difficult to wake up and live every day and evaluate every decision with the idea that you won’t settle.

But it’s what you must do if you want to leave a legacy that is great.

Your spouse, your kids, your friends, and your legacy are waiting on you to fight for them. They want you to be great. Don’t Settle.