How Do You Want to Be Remembered?

We never really know what somebody’s legacy will be until they’re gone. This is what I thought after I finished reading Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s candid and heart-wrenching tribute to her late husband Dave Goldberg. If you’re like me, you got really emotional as you read Sheryl’s message. You too could feel her raw pain emanate from your screen as she reflected on her first thirty days of mourning.


Photo from Flickr

What struck me is how Dave’s death and legacy have been covered. Usually, when a notable person is being remembered, there is a great emphasis on that person’s achievements. Dave had no shortage of success as the SurveyMonkey CEO or former GM of Yahoo Music. While articles mention his professional merits, the biggest focus has been on his love story with Sheryl. In particular, news coverage has focused on how his role as a supportive partner and co-parent allowed her to “lean in” and excel in her career.

Sheryl’s Facebook post made me want to do a legacy checkup: What legacy do I want to leave? Is it one worth having? If I can’t have every aspect of my ideal legacy, which parts are most important?

Everyone should ask themselves these questions at least on an annual basis. We get medical checkups, dental checkups, job evaluations, and other self-assessments at least once a year. Why not do the same with a legacy checkup?

These questions are by no means a comprehensive legacy checkup, but they are a good starting point.

It may feel morbid to evaluate our lives through the lens of a legacy checkup, but the truth is we all have limited time on earth. Why don’t we reflect on our life more to make sure we’re living it right?

Sheryl’s tribute to Dave struck me so strongly because it was clear that the strongest legacy he left was not his success–but his love.

I’ve come across too many people who have chosen or are choosing to live their life much differently than Dave. Whether they realize it or not, they are deciding to put love on the back burner while other things take priority.

It makes me think of a guy I met while I was in college. The summer before my senior year, I decided to stay on campus to take a couple classes. This meant I had to stay in Champaign, IL, instead of near Chicago for a couple months. When I was out one night, my friend introduced me to this guy. He also was spending the summer in town. I asked if he was taking summer classes. He replied that he was in town just to hang out. I asked why he’d choose to spend the summer in Champaign of all places (I loved going to college there, but it was not my ideal summer destination).

He replied that he was staying in town because he couldn’t be near his parents. He came out as gay to them, and they wouldn’t accept it. His parents lived in a town where they were well-known and well-respected with notable jobs, and having a gay son was going to mess up people’s image of his family. It wasn’t the legacy they wanted to leave in their community. As a result, he was spending the summer in Champaign with little to no contact with his parents. Who knows how much longer that stage lasted?

I haven’t talked to this guy since that night. I don’t know if his parents chose to maintain little to no contact with him, or if they decided to reconcile. However, I do know that too many people make decisions like this without considering the long-term consequences of their actions.

How different would that guy’s situation have been if his parents paused to ask themselves: “What legacy do I want to leave? Is it one worth having? If I can’t have every aspect of my ideal legacy, which parts are most important? Is this legacy of having the ‘perfect family’ according to other people’s standards worth disowning my son?”

When people think of legacy, they often reflect on seminal events. However, legacy isn’t just about the seminal events. It’s also about the seemingly small moments driven by our daily decision-making.

We never really know the value of those small moments and seminal events unless we evaluate them in the larger frame of our desired legacy.

When you do your legacy checkup, what questions will you ask? What is your ideal legacy? If you can’t have every part of your ideal legacy, which parts matter most to you?

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