building a powerful and enduring legacy

One of the greatest Eureka moments that the Big O — Oprah Winfrey — has had is the teaching from her mother, sister, friend and mentor Maya Angelou about legacy. 

Oprah had just returned from the opening of her school in South Africa and was telling Angelou all the details about it. With confidence and joy, she said to her, “This school will be my greatest legacy. It will make such a profound difference. It will change the trajectory of girls’ lives. It will impact generations to come.”

Angelou in her unique way stopped her in her tracks and told her, “You have no idea what your legacy will be. Your legacy is what you do every day. Your legacy is every life you’ve touched, every person whose life was either moved or not. It’s every person you’ve harmed or helped, that’s your legacy…  It’s not one thing—it’s everything!” 

We all work hard day in and day out to build our resumes, generate more sales, climb higher on the corporate ladder, and gain more rewards, but in the end, it’s those moments when we connect and contribute to our fellow humans and make them feel better when we experience real success. It’s these moments that will be remembered by our friends, colleagues and loved ones, and mentioned at our eulogy when we are no longer in this world. 

No matter how deep our resumes are, or how many rewards or what level of recognition we achieve in our careers, it’s those spontaneous moments of paying attention and making a kind and compassionate gesture towards another human being, those moments when we touch someone, and make them feel seen, heard, understood and validated, that would be recounted. And this is the key difference between building a resume and building a legacy. 

We are all obsessed with building our resumes. If we look at the tasks and activities in our to-do lists and our calendars, they’re all geared towards that. Consciously or unconsciously, all that we are thinking, working and striving for every day revolves around our resumes. And this is where we’re making a big mistake. As Darren Hardy points out, “In the end your resume won’t even matter. What matters is your legacy. And your legacy has nothing to do with your resume.”

It doesn’t matter what level of success and abundance you currently have, and what kind of situation you’re presently in, you can still have those moments of kindness and impact that build your legacy. As Roy T. Bennet said, “A random act of kindness, no matter how small, can make a tremendous impact on someone else’s life.”

You don’t have to get to a certain position or status as you build your resume in order to start making an impact. We all have the opportunity to contribute towards building our legacy every day. Instead of focusing exclusively on tasks that build our resumes, we simply need to start paying attention to those moments when we can help and make a contribution to the people that we interact with every day. As Oprah wrote in her website, looking back at her conversation with Maya Angelou, “Everything you do that leaves a handprint or a heartprint is your legacy. And there’s a chance to make a difference daily, building a legacy as a giver to and supporter of others.”

Today, consider shifting your focus from the pursuit of building your resume towards performing a few kind acts and garnering those unexpected moments that construct the monument of your legacy and get registered in the memory bank of the people around you, at your work and in your community. Bob Kerrey once said, “Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.” 

Embody the words that you want to be known by and give others some excellent examples to refer to when they talk about you at the end of your life. In other words, make today and every day from now onward about building a powerful and enduring legacy.