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What Will Your Legacy Be?

Boy and girl swinging in idyllic park

The Meriam Webster dictionary defines legacy as “something (such as property or money) that is received from someone who has died, or, something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past.”

When I think about the word legacy, I think more about the legacy I hope to leave behind for the larger community. It makes me think about my old Girl Scout training, where we were told to always leave the campsite in better shape than the way we found it. It was as if we were leaving our legacy for the next group of campers using the campsite.

In many Native American cultures, it is appropriate to think seven generations ahead and determine whether the decisions you make in the present will benefit your children, seven generations into the future. Seattle and the entire region is changing right before our eyes. Imagine what the region could look like if our civic leaders took this principal of thinking seven generations ahead seriously. How would that change the current landscape? Would we still see so many construction cranes dotting the skyline? Would we still be trying to come up with solutions for more affordable housing? What would the legacy of our current leaders be, if they were forced to use this principal of seven generations?

Another way to think about this concept is to think about the notion of community trusteeship or stewardship. As a parent, you are a “trustee” of the next generation, holding your children “in trust” so that they will grow into productive, healthy adults. As a trustee or board member of an organization, you are responsible for holding that organization “in trust” for future generations, so that the organization will be in better shape when you leave than when you first became a trustee. If you take that concept to the next level, then a “community trustee” would be a person who holds the entire community “in trust,” to ensure that the community is better than when you inherited it.

Finding a way to make a difference in your community is the perfect way to create your legacy. You might choose to become an advocate for a particular cause you believe in. Perhaps you want to volunteer your time for an organization you care about. Maybe you’d like to join a board or a commission, or even run for political office!  If taking on a larger volunteer role isn’t for you, then perhaps one-to-one volunteering might be more up your alley. You could mentor a young person, visit people in nursing homes, or clean up a neighbor’s yard. The possibilities are as endless as the numerous organizations which need your help. The key is to figure out what you value and what you care about.

The legacy you leave behind doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be about money. It doesn’t have to be about plaques or awards. Whether you are rich or poor, famous or not, you will have the opportunity to leave a legacy behind. Maybe you will be remembered for the amazing children you raised. Maybe you will be to be remembered as the person who cleaned up the local park. Maybe you will be remembered for your kind words of support that helped someone through a difficult time. Whatever your legacy is, it should be something that is meaningful to you and will give you a sense of purpose.

When someone asks me what my legacy is, I think about all the people who have gone through Leadership Tomorrow and are now finding ways to make a difference in their communities. Through the years I’ve received notes and cards from many of them, thanking me for inspiring them to act, or impacting their choices in some small way. For me, those notes represent my legacy—to know that I have touched people in ways that were meaningful for them and made a difference. Perhaps your legacy will be to let someone know they made a difference in your life, so that they, in turn, can make a difference for someone else.

Twentieth century American Quaker author and theologian Elton Trueblood wrote that leaders plant shade trees under which they know they will never sit. As you think about what your legacy will be, Mr. Trueblood’s words ring particularly true.

Jan Levy

Contributor Jan Levy is executive director of Leadership Tomorrow, a civic leadership training program for the Puget Sound Region.


Leadership Tomorrow

Since the early 1980s, Leadership Tomorrow has been preparing, challenging, and engaging emerging and existing leaders through leadership development for the benefit of the Puget Sound region. The nine-month program immerses participants in an inspiring and enlightening curriculum that examines critical issues that impact the region. During the program, participants expand their leadership skills while gaining a greater commitment to community stewardship. While the time commitment for the participant can be significant, the amount of time the participant spends away from the office is only one day per month.

Leadership Tomorrow logoEach Leadership Tomorrow class is selected through a competitive process conducted by a Screening and Selection Committee. Approximately 80 individuals are chosen each year based on criteria including: a commitment to civic involvement and to the Puget Sound region, the potential for community leadership, and an individual’s professional and personal achievement.

Because diversity is an important goal, other factors affecting the final make-up of the class may be considered, such as employment sector, ethnicity and geographic location. Recent classes have included a mix of 60 percent private sector, and 20 percent nonprofit and public sector, representation from five counties in the region, and 35 percent to 40 percent people of color.

Applications for the 2017–2018 class will be available beginning in mid-winter. Candidates apply online at

Posted in Inspiration