The Importance of Leaving a Legacy for Family and Community

By Ken Dychtwald

Saying goodbye to the old year and hello to the new is always a time of reflection. For me, it’s also a time to consider my evolving legacy and to set new goals for what it can become in the years ahead. Over the last decade, I’ve come to understand the importance of leaving a legacy in one’s personal and professional life, which is informing much of the advocacy I’m doing today about living with purpose, passion, and curiosity.

This journey began about 10 years ago when my consulting firm Age Wave conducted a large-scale investigation into “inheritance,” and we quickly discovered that focus group participants didn’t really want to talk about it. For them, the word “inheritance” brought up morbid images of death and dividing up money and property. I suggested that the moderator instead ask about “legacy”—a seldom used word at the time—and the floodgates opened. Suddenly, everyone wanted to share.

Our research in that study also uncovered religious traditions dating back a thousand years in which older men and women were encouraged to create two wills, a “material will” and—far more interesting to our team—what was called an “ethical will,” in which you gather the key values and life lessons you want to share with children, grandchildren, and future generations.

Creating a Personal Legacy

Around the time of this study, my father passed away and when I suddenly became our family’s elder, I became motivated by the idea of leaving my own legacy. With the help of a storytelling coach and a therapist, over the next several years, I gathered the best stories and lessons from my own life, including meetings with remarkable people from hippies to presidents, the ups and downs of love, family, births and deaths and the challenges of balancing a life frequently caught between the Dow and the Tao. In the spring of 2021, I published my personal legacy as a memoir, unlike anything I had ever shared or written before, titled Radical Curiosity: One Man’s Search for Cosmic Magic and a Purposeful Life.

From this experience, I’m convinced that gathering one’s life lessons is something we should all try to do. You don’t have to be rich or famous to have learned things in your life that are precious and valuable. And you don’t necessarily have to publish a book. To get started, here are some sample questions you might reflect on and share with a friend or family member, while filming your comments on the app on your phone.

Some sample questions to be answered:

  • When and where were you born? Do you know why you were given your name?
  • What were your parents like and how did they raise you?
  • What do you know about their deepest values? About their religious beliefs?
  • What are the important lessons you learned from your mom? From your dad?
  • What is your happiest childhood memory? Your saddest childhood memory?
  • How did you pick the career you pursued? What advice would you give about the role of work and money in life?
  • When finding a long-term mate, what are the most important things to look for?
  • If you had children, what was it like when she, he or they were born? What did you feel?
  • What is the smartest decision you ever made?
  • Is there something you accomplished – or tried to accomplish – in your career that makes you most proud?
  • What is the biggest mistake you ever made? How did you feel about it then, and how do you feel about it now?
  • Who is the wisest person you ever met and why? Who is the kindest person you ever met and why?
  • What do you know now that you wished you had known when you were younger?
  • What person, act, or philosophy has been your biggest source of inspiration?
  • Has aging been a descent or an ascent for you? What advice would you give others about growing older?
  • How have you dealt with disappointments or failures? What advice would you give about getting through difficult times?
  • What is the most important gift we can give another human being?
  • What is your favorite book? Song? Movie? Place? Vacation spot? Food? Color? Gift? Holiday? Joke? Season? Hero?
  • What do you wish more people knew about you?
  • What do you feel has been your purpose in life?

If you’d like to learn about bringing my newest presentations to your group, including the brand-new Radical Curiosity: The Keys to a Meaningful, Magical, Purposeful Life, click here.