I love it when convergence happens. I’ve been wrestling with something for the last few weeks and it all came together for me yesterday.
For the past few weeks my husband and I have been doing something we should have done about 10 years ago: we’re doing estate planning that includes updating our wills, establishing a trust, selecting trustees, the whole nine yards.
We interviewed attorneys, consulted with friends, asked questions: all the things rational people do when they start a rational process like this. What no one told us about was the emotional side of this process. More than figuring out to whom we should leave what things, we were planning for a future that neither of us wanted. We were making decisions that would be implemented if I pass before my husband. Or if he passes before me. Or if we go together. No matter how you look at it, we were spending time doing rational planning for an unsatisfactory future with a hugely negative, emotional component.
And it was hard, not at all fun and stressful. And it culminated in a fight – something we rarely do. What helped us got over the fight quickly was the realization that we weren’t fighting over how to divide stuff between our two families if we went out together; rather, we had allowed fear to overshadow our thinking and our emotions. Fear of a life without the other and all that meant. We gave in and lashed out. Dumb. But human. And then we recovered and moved forward quickly and harmoniously making the right rational decisions to get this process finished.
But I was missing something. And that nagged at me.
So here’s the convergence. Yesterday I attended a fundraising luncheon for the YWCA of Silicon Valley expertly organized by a dear friend. It was an outstanding event. We heard from people whose lives had been saved or restored by this agency’s outstanding work. The stories were inspiring testimonies of the results of caring and the power of a second chance. And they had something else in common: these survivors were working on something bigger. They were capitalizing on their second chances by making sure their lives have real meaning for their families and their communities. They are purposefully creating a lasting positive legacy.
These stories were followed by a keynote speech given by Doris Kearns Goodwin, historian of U.S. presidents. She is an extraordinarily powerful speaker who talked about LBJ, FDR and Eleanor, and Abraham Lincoln. She talked about them in terms of what they thought about their legacies. She shared stories about LBJ and his profound sadness that the failures of Viet Nam wiped out, in his mind, the civil rights progress that were gained during his presidency. She discussed Eleanor Roosevelt’s tireless work to support and even create her husband’s legacy and as well as her own place in history. And she detailed Lincoln’s stubborn recovery from deep depression and potential suicide because he had not yet created an impact that would leave proof of his life in history.
And I began to connect the dots.
Over dinner last night a good friend and I discussed this concept of legacy. And it created an entirely different context for the estate planning process my husband and I have been going through. In addition to getting our physical legacy in order, we really should be focused on getting our meta-physical legacy in order. We should be thinking about how we add value to the lives of the people we love and how we want to do more of that before we’re gone. We should be thinking about the legacies we want to leave in our professional lives and in our communities. That’s true estate planning. And that’s what we’re really working on.
Money is just money. But the outcomes of being an influence for good last longer. Stuff is just stuff. But the impact on people’s lives of a life lived ethically that is focused on leaving each situation better than it was found can be profound. That’s the estate we want to continue to build. That’s the legacy we want to leave.
In the grand scope of things, I hope that our physical estate will provide some joy and financial stability to our loved ones. But that’s not the legacy that matters to me. Our true legacy is the productive and moral lives lived by the student athletes my husband has coached throughout his career. Our true legacy is the enriched and productive lives lived by those I have led and whose careers I have supported through my leadership career.
The stuff and money will be short lived and impact a few. It’s my hope that our true legacy will live in big and small ways in all the individual lives we’ve been blessed to touch. That’s my kind of estate planning. And it doesn’t seem so negative and stressful any more.