Your Guide to Legacy Projects

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Many of us feel compelled to have a lasting impact on our surroundings. We want our friends, family and community to remember us long after we’re gone. Often, however, that desire is more easily expressed than it is fulfilled. 

“There are three deaths: the first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time,” wrote neuroscientist David Eagleman. 

At first, memories are easy to keep alive. People live on in stories recounted by those who knew them, treasured family recipes that no one can make quite the same way and in other quiet moments where you feel their absence. 

As time passes, however, keeping memories alive becomes more challenging. Think about your great grandparents or their parents. How much do you know about them? Their names, most likely. Perhaps you’ve seen pictures and know you look the same way one of them did when they were your age. 

What is there beyond that? It’s not that anyone is deliberately forgotten, but time passes. Memories fade. Years, decades, maybe a century later, and all that’s left of the life someone lived is a few yellowed photographs and a weathered grave marker. 

A legacy project is one way to keep memories alive. Legacy projects are activities or actions you can undertake to honor your loved ones. You can also create a legacy project for yourself. Depending on the project, it can remind you of what someone loved or spread you or your loved one’s passion to others. 

If you’ve ever benefited from a memorial scholarship fund, rested on a bench donated in memory of someone or spent time reading the names engraved on the bricks of a path, your life has already been touched by a legacy project. 

It’s challenging to think through grief. If you have recently lost someone, give yourself time. Our culture sometimes pushes us to move quickly and find productivity even in loss. Giving your loved one’s life meaning is honorable and can be healing, but don’t push yourself beyond what you’re comfortable with. 

Of course, not every legacy project has to be in memoriam. Graduating classes, parents, soon-to-be retirees, and other groups might want to leave a legacy for new students, children, or new employees. 

How To Start A Legacy Project

The idea of beginning a legacy project can be overwhelming, whether you’re planning one for yourself or someone else. You’re creating a legacy, and the idea behind it is that it will be long-lasting. That’s an intimidating prospect. 

The most important question to ask yourself when deciding on a legacy project is, “how will my work help people?”

It’s an idea that’s both interesting and complicated to consider. Legacy projects are about you or your loved one, but if they’re not valuable for a broader group, they won’t last. Before you can start a project, you need to answer this question. 

When you know how you want to help people, you can begin looking at what you like to do and what you’re good at. Leveraging your existing skillset can help you narrow down your options until you have project ideas that will work for you and your current circumstances. Many of us don’t have the time or energy to learn an entirely new skill for something that, while incredibly meaningful, isn’t part of our day job.

Our next bit of advice for creating a legacy project is to take your time. It can be tempting to rush into something without taking the time to plan when you’re excited about it, but doing so decreases your chances of long-term success. 

To summarize, the very basics of your plan should include:

  • Who will benefit from your project.
  • What form the work you do will take.
  • The product, service, or other output that will result from your project.
  • How you will measure the success of your project.
  • The vision you have for your project in the long-term. 

When you have an outline, you can ensure you stay focused on turning the vision you have for your project into a reality. If you’re struggling or otherwise uncertain, consider applying the SMART mnemonic to your goals. That is, make sure all of your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. It’s a rather basic guide to setting and meeting objectives, but it’s effective nevertheless. 

The last thing you need to know about creating a legacy project is that it will take work if you’re doing it from scratch. Pre-existing legacy projects that you can buy into, like the benches mentioned above or engraved bricks, are lasting and don’t require anything more than a financial investment. 

If you’re doing something more involved, such as establishing a scholarship fund or writing a book, the time and financial resources you invest in the project will be far greater. 

Legacy Project Ideas 

If you’ve already considered how you want to help people and what your skills are, but you’re finding yourself short on ideas, we have a few suggestions that might spark the perfect legacy project idea for you. 

If you’re a student or someone who advises students, creating a legacy for yourself or your charges that will last a lifetime likely isn’t at the forefront of your mind. You might, however, be considering what you can do to leave a legacy for the next class. 

One popular choice for students of all ages is writing legacy letters. You might have your class of seventh graders write to the year below them talking about what they wished they had known before entering middle school. Or, you might be a member of the senior class of a high school or college writing letters to incoming first-year students. 

Legacy projects don’t have to be deeply thoughtful, particularly for younger students. A pizza or ice cream party courtesy of a rising class’s fundraising efforts will be equally effective and appreciated. 

If you’re a teacher, having your class collaborate on a legacy project is a great chance to have your students practice teamwork. 

Young and middle-aged adults are probably the least likely to consider their legacies. That’s understandable; most people are busy with careers and raising families between their 20s and their early 60s. Children are a legacy in their own right, but you won’t always have spare time or energy at the end of the day for other activities, especially when your children are young. 

Young adults should consider the legacy they would like to leave and develop a plan to do so. Middle-aged adults should look back on everything they’ve already accomplished and decide whether they’re satisfied with the trajectory of their lives and impact. It’s never too late to begin building a legacy in the form of a journal, voice recordings or videos. 

Older adults tend to be the group that comes to mind when someone considers legacy projects. In many cases, it’s only now that people have the opportunity to view the legacy they’re going to leave. Some people are satisfied, while others are not. 

Journals, books, quilts and collages are popular choices for legacy projects among older adults. Some people choose to collaborate with their children or other younger relatives on genealogical research that can become a legacy project for the entire family. 

When older adults pass away, their loved ones sometimes choose to create a legacy project in their honor. Donations to places the person who passed away enjoyed spending time are common. Parks, zoos, churches and other organizations are happy for financial contributions and usually have programs already in place to create a legacy. 

Elements To Consider When Planning a Legacy Project

In addition to the basics of a plan, there are other questions you should ask yourself when choosing a legacy project.

First and foremost: what do you want people to know about you, and how do you want to be remembered? Distilling who you are into one easy-to-communicate idea is a challenge, but doing so will allow you to create something true to your values. 

Next, ask yourself what you would say if you only had one chance to say something. What’s the most crucial thing you want to express? A legacy project is a perfect opportunity to get a message across. 

Use legacy projects to pass on life advice and wisdom. If you have memories you’d like to share, do so whether you’re creating a legacy project for yourself or someone else. Use the legacy project you’re working on as an opportunity to say the things you love and appreciate, either about the person being honored if it’s someone other than yourself or the people who have made a difference in your life if the legacy project is for you. 

Finally, is there anything that has been left unsaid on anyone’s part? If so, say it. Whether you have unfinished business, an argument you would like to resolve, or you want to share something that the people in your life never knew about you, legacy projects are your opportunity to do so. 

Whatever you decide to do for a legacy project, whether for yourself or anyone else, it’s a great way to have a lasting positive impact on your community and sometimes the world at large. 

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