Many people want to leave a legacy. They recognize the value of doing something, at any age, to benefit future generations. But for those who don’t have gobs of money to donate, creating a legacy can feel daunting while juggling work and their personal lives.
Increasingly, people who consider themselves time- and cash-constrained are finding ways to build a legacy. Some choose occupations or jobs that have social impact or feel meaningful. Others focus on teaching their children or mentees how to live with purpose and make something of themselves. And some work to solve big picture problems by creating or participating in organizations that bring people together to do good.
Author Brad Meltzer says there are four spheres where we create legacies: our jobs, our personal lives, our communities and with strangers. Creating a legacy doesn’t have to be time-consuming, Meltzer said while in Fort Lauderdale addressing the American Heart Association last week. It starts with envisioning how you want your own obituary to read and realizing you can begin now to shape its content. As an example, Meltzer told the audience about Frank Shankwitz, a policeman whose decision to help a dying boy led to the creation of the Make-A-Wish Foundation: “Sometimes it’s about one person sharing their good idea with another.”
In deciding exactly what you want your legacy to be, identify your strengths and talents. Which of your core strengths could benefit others, and how can you make that happen while balancing work and family? Melissa Medina, a mother of four who is pregnant with her fifth child, says while family is important, she was raised to believe that improving the lives of others is essential. She has used her determination to help position Miami as a technology hub for the Americas. As vice president of eMerge Americas, she organized a conference that drew 6,000 attendees to Miami its first year. In its second year, a whole day was dedicated to the contributions of women in entrepreneurship and technology. “Little by little we’re creating a true tech hub in Miami, and I’m proud to be part of it,” she said.
Legacy-building can require different levels of effort and commitment but tends to take hold when it stems from something you’re passionate about. I recently was struck by the obituary of George Van Wyck, former vice president at American Bankers Life Insurance Group who passed away on Christmas Day. He had created a legacy by thinking bigger than his job responsibilities. He simply wanted his employees to be happy and guided his company into pioneering corporate day care in South Florida. First, in 1976, he orchestrated the acquisition of an old motel across the street from company headquarters on Brickell Avenue and turned it into a day-care center for employees’ children. Then, in 1984, when the company moved to new corporate headquarters, Van Wyck was instrumental in creating an on-site day-care center. Today, more than 8,000 children have spent time in the company’s childcare centers.
Some people choose to leave legacies by sharing life lessons with the next generation. It could be their own children, their work team or strangers. Shari Gonzalez, vice president of sales at iHeartMedia for the Miami/Fort Lauderdale market, says she gains inspiration from other businesswomen and makes the effort to help the next generation of women in sales reach their unrealized potential by sharing what she has learned: “I think it’s important not to wait for someone to ask you for mentorship but to seek out being a mentor. Sometimes they don’t have courage yet to ask, but I can instill that in young females by being there for them.”
Often, a legacy starts with seeing something you want to change in your work or personal life. When Jacqueline Calderin, a Miami business restructuring expert, realized she was being left out of golf and fishing trips where male bonding was taking place, she created and participated in informal networks for women. Today, myriad women benefit: “The first person I go to is one of my women contacts and it comes back to me.”
Whether intentional or not, your legacy can benefit strangers when you start or work for a business with a social purpose or participate in groups and organizations that fund research or improve lives. Or, it can be your advice that makes a difference for future generations. Marta Alfonso, a principal in the Management Advisory Services Department at MBAF in Miami, speaks often to organizations and small business owners outside of work hours, encouraging women to be financially independent and empowered. “I want women to know their financial condition. I want women to be financially informed,” she told the audience last week at an Influential Women of Today event in Miami sponsored by her firm.
Like Alfonso, millennial Lauren Yingling wants her advice to be her legacy. She has started a website, themillenniallegacy.com, to encourage her peers to think now toward the future. She writes: “My fellow millennials, ask yourselves one simple question: What kind of a legacy do you want to build?”
Cindy Krischer Goodman writes regularly on work life and workplace issues. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org, @balancegal or worklifebalancingact.com.