“To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
As humans, we often long to make a connection to something bigger than and more enduring than ourselves. A lasting legacy captures some meaningful aspect of our unique presence and preserves it for the benefit of those who follow us. Whether through work, family, or community, we all have the opportunity to leave a one-of-a-kind mark on the world.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Ideas for Leaving a Legacy for Your Career
- Ideas for Leaving a Legacy for Your Family
- Ideas for Leaving a Legacy to Better the World
If you have a solid foundation on the meaning of legacy but wonder how you can live your life to leave the most significant and enduring legacy possible, check out these 12 ideas.
And if you're interested in unique ways to continue the legacy of a loved one, you can consider a custom urn from a store like Foreverence or even have a memorial diamond made from ashes with a company like Eterneva.
Ideas for Leaving a Legacy for Your Career
Our careers are often central to our contribution to the world—and we can make a lasting impact through our body of work. Working not just for money but with a deeper sense of purpose can connect us to a source of meaning beyond ourselves.
Starting a business or nonprofit organization appeals to some, but regardless of whether we work for ourselves or others, we all want to feel that we built something lasting during our careers. These ideas will help you make that happen.
Do you have an opportunity to mentor aspiring or new professionals in your company or field? Sharing your wisdom is a great way to “pay it forward” and help shape the next generation of leaders.
Are there guiding principles that have shaped your work ethic or leadership style? Share with mentees what you did to get where you are, hear their worries, motivate, and help them find their way toward a career of impact.
2. Pass on your knowledge
If you’ve gathered wisdom over your career, share that knowledge via articles in trade publications, a book, or even a blog.
Publishing online can be done with very little cost and a very broad reach. Capturing your knowledge and skills ensures that your expertise will continue to make a difference during your retirement and beyond.
3. Keep connected after retirement
How do you want to be remembered by your clients and colleagues? By your community? Continuing to engage with the ecosystem of your professional life means continuing to be a resource, sounding board, or teacher in retirement.
Plus, staying connected to others may improve your chances of living longer in retirement.
Ideas for Leaving a Legacy for Your Family
In the context of family, legacy means inter-generational continuity. The cycle of life is vividly present, and we celebrate and mourn these transitions together.
Just as we have individual legacies, there are family legacies tied to each family’s culture, lore, traditions, values, and contributions to society. Passing these along, as well as your individual story, continues the larger narrative of your ever-changing family and weaves it into our shared history.
There are many ways to help your family be remembered. In addition to the suggestions below, have a look at our 18 legacy project ideas for specific undertakings that will help capture your life’s unique footprint.
4. Write about life in these times
Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest. Sharing your experience and perspective about life here and now can be a gift to your descendants and others in the years ahead.
Think of how interesting it would be to have first-person accounts of major events in the world told by your own family members. These can be shared during your life if you wish—consider ideas such as writing to a child shortly before their birth and giving them that message on a significant birthday later on.
5. Curate your family’s history
Remembering a family member’s life can inform how you live your own. You may recall stories and have access to documents that your descendants will not, so you could be in a great position to become a family historian.
Compile photographs, handwritten notes, and even small heirlooms—or create a timeline that juxtaposes your family’s history with major world events. If you have the time and interest to complete a genealogical research project, this can be an incredible gift to your family—and one that they can maintain for generations to come.
6. Tell your life story
Telling the story of your life in your own words can be one of the greatest gifts to loved ones. You might wish to put your history on paper via a journal, autobiography, or memoir.
Telling your descendants about your life and your extended family’s stories is key to passing on your family’s legacy. Reflect on your past and share the stories and circumstances unique to your lifetime.
7. Make an audio or video recording
Many find it easier to speak than write. This may be a better way to preserve family stories. Why not start by making a collection of keepsake audio or video recordings that you and your loved ones will treasure? Consider it a part of your digital legacy.
You can interview family members about the past or children about their future. Or have someone film you identifying the people or events in old family photographs. You can archive and edit these videos on many online platforms then share them with the whole family.
Ideas for Leaving a Legacy to Better the World
What kind of impact will you have on society? How will your legacy better your community?
One way of living a significant life is to leave a long-lived gift to the broader human family. This could be a contribution (of time, money, or talent) to an important cause, something built or crafted, or even a victory in achieving important changes you want to see in the world.
By creating or catalyzing something that will last beyond your lifespan, you can make a positive imprint to benefit future generations.
8. Raise your children (and grandchildren) well
One of the most fundamental ways (though maybe one of the hardest) to leave the world a better place is by raising responsible, capable, and generous children who live out the positive values you instill in them in youth.
Building a strong and healthy family in your household can reverberate for generations and shape the outcome for both your descendants and the broader world.
Good deeds are always remembered. Take part in activities connected with making the world a better place to live in.
Volunteering benefits your mental health, society, the community, and the world in general. Look for organizations that benefit a cause you’re interested in and join in. Your time, skills and energy are an invaluable gift.
10. Share your lessons
We all have life lessons that would benefit those who follow us in the path of life. Share these lessons via a “legacy letter.”
Tell your loved ones what you’ve learned, what matters to you, and how your values have informed your life. This time-tested guidance will shape the lives of those with whom you share it and is worth more than gold.
Whenever you meet hatred with love you are doing important work to heal the world. Extending love and compassion beyond your immediate friends and family to the larger human family helps to create a more peaceful society.
The ability to see situations from different perspectives, to feel others’ pain, and to teach that skill to your children, makes all the difference in humanity’s ability to sustain itself. To have loved and taught others to love is an amazing legacy.
12. Take initiative
Wherever you see an opportunity to make the world a better place, step up and do something about it. Start a new program in your community (e.g. a literacy program or a housing-for-all initiative), spearhead the construction of a new community garden or playground, or launch a campaign to raise donations or change policy.
The benefits that these projects provide will be part of your enduring legacy to your community.
Leave the World a Little Better
“Try and leave this world a little better than you found it, and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate, you have not wasted your time but have done your best.” – Robert Baden-Powell
Living a meaningful life makes for a lasting legacy. Think about what matters to you and how you can contribute in ways that will make a difference beyond the span of your life. Being proactive about your legacy means being thoughtful about how you want to be remembered.
While you’re doing this sort of planning, create a Cake account to document your final wishes as another priceless (and practical) gift to your loved ones.
If you're interested in other ways to make meaning, read our guides on how to live a more meaningful life and how to plan a meaningful funeral.