What Are You Known For?

One of the greatest among the many aha teachings seared into my soul by my mentor-mother-friend Maya Angelou is the one about legacy.

I’d just returned from the opening of my school in South Africa and was regaling her with all the details.

“This school will be my greatest legacy,” I said. “It will make such a profound difference. It will change the trajectory of girls’ lives. It will impact generations to come.”

I was pretty confident making those statements. And time has proved them true, as I witness the members of the first classes now blossomed into young women graduating from college and venturing into new areas of service and achievement.

But Maya wasn’t hearing it. She stopped me cold. “You have no idea what your legacy will be!” she exclaimed. “Your legacy is every life you touch! It’s every person who ever watched your show and felt something. Was moved to do something. Go back to school, leave an abusive marriage, stop hitting their kids, no longer remain silent, not be a victim. It’s not one thing – it’s everything!”

-Oprah Winfrey, O Magazine, September, 2017

I finished reading the September issue of O Magazine a day before this text came in from my friend, Michelle: “You need to watch Worst Cooks in America—Celebrity Edition on the Food Network. Erik Estrada is on it.”

Michelle, one of my best high school friends, knows about my Erik Estrada thing. As you can see in this blog entry, http://laurahandke.com/happy-63rd-birthday-erik-estrada/ I finally met the man at the age of 33. That’s one thing I’m known for. Likely also that I only watch one television show, The Young and the Restless, on CBS. I’ve been watching since age 15, and am not about to stop now. Whenever possible, I eat my lunch while learning the latest gossip from Genoa City. (Yes, I know. Don’t even…) My biggest acting goal is not to earn an Academy Award, but to have a six-to-eight-week stint on Y&R. I admit it. It’s true.

Many colleagues and friends know about my thing for author and famous life coach, Martha Beck. I quote her like preachers quote the Bible.

Yet what else I am known for?

What are you known for?

This is where a rather somber, yet also fun, exercise comes in. Some call it the “grave stone” exercise.

How do you want to be remembered? What is your legacy?

It is, indeed, as Maya Angelou told Oprah, everything you say, and everything you do. Every person you reach. Every life you touch.

My ex-husband might say I drank too much wine during our marriage, yet when I called to let him know the divorce papers were coming, what he said was, “I will never say a bad thing about you.”

Okay, it might have been self-serving, because he didn’t want me to say a bad thing about him, but still…

My cat Lady Jane might say after a year and a half in the shelter, I have given her a happy and loving home for a decade. She tells me this every day in her cat language I’ve somewhat learned to understand. (Except for the pooping on the floor six inches from the litter box part.)

Friends over the years have thanked me for many things, and called me out on others (thank God for both!)

Students and clients have given me both accolades and constructive feedback. I’ve given workshops where I felt I wasn’t reaching people and wasn’t able to help them. Where I felt I totally bombed. I’ve given others I was certain changed people’s lives for the better and I walked out soaring on angels’ wings. (Yet I don’t know how even when I felt I bombed, what came through to the students.)

My partner told me, in our first year, this is the most loving relationship he’s ever had. He says this now, in our fifth.

I have done some stupid and selfish things. I’ve acted rashly at times. I’ve said things I’ve regretted.

I’ve also been loving in situations when I could have chosen otherwise. I’ve risen to the task when I didn’t think I could. I have found secret fortitudes of patience and wisdom I didn’t know were there.

Haven’t we all?

Reflect on similar experiences you’ve had over the years, and when grace popped in when you least expected it. Aren’t those the most spectacular moments of all? Those graceful moments are always upmost in our legacy.

When I pass, I don’t want to take up space in our precious planet with a coffin and a grave stone. I think cremation and my ashes scattered is a better route.

Yet this is my response to the grave stone exercise.

She took risks to grow. She opened her heart. She shared love.

What is yours? Let us know on the blog!

Unleash and HONE Your Authentic Message: Four steps to delivering a memorable speech that will engage your audience for maximum impact and results. 

HONE Your Message is coming to Toastmasters for Speaking Professionals October 17th.

If peaceful conflict resolution is in your wheelhouse, come to the Oregon Mediation Associations’ 31st Annual Conference November 3rd & 4th in Portland, where I will be presenting HONE Your Message.

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Authentically Yours, Laura