Having a clear sense of purpose – the place where gifts, passions, and values intersect – means that each day is infused with meaning. It’s the reason we get up in the morning.
It’s also the reason we, ultimately, leave a legacy. One thing is certain – all that we do pass on is all that we are. We may envision ourselves as sending one message or another, but, in the end, the only message we can send is through the life that we lead, the way that we show up.
Leaving a Footprint in Time
“What am I living for?” “What matters?” “What footprint will I leave as my legacy?”
We pose such questions at any stage of life, but in the second half of life they matter more. Wherever we walk through life, we are leaving a footprint (that others may follow) in time. It’s natural, therefore, to re-think the legacy we are passing on.
Living Your Legacy
The concept of creating an “ethical will” is currently making a strong comeback. It has great contemporary relevance for those of us concerned with making sense of our lives and the fact of our aging.
An ethical will is a document, that, in contrast to a traditional will, can be anything from a letter to a memoir to an artwork, even a video that enables you to communicate to others the essence of what you see your authentic self to be.
An ordinary will mainly concerns the disposition of your material possessions at death. An ethical will has to do with nonmaterial gifts, passions, and values – the life lessons that you have learned and lived.
An ethical will can help us to synthesize the wisdom of the first half of our lives to more purposefully shape the second half. Often, it provides personal stories and messages to loved ones (and the world) about the values and beliefs you hope might catch on.
In a meeting with Dr. Andrew Weil, he told me that “an ethical will helps us discern what we will leave behind, our legacy, but just as important, it gives direction to the rest of our lives.”
Something to Live For
What does an ethical will do? The answer is pretty clear – it helps you find reasons to live.
In his book, Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-Being (Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 2005), Dr. Weil writes, “you can and should write an ethical will. You can choose to share it while you’re alive or leave your thoughts for your loved ones to share after you’re gone. Regardless of your age, an ethical will can be an exercise that makes you take stock of your life experience and distill from it the values and wisdom that you have gained. You can then put the document aside, read it over as the years pass, and revise it from time to time as you see fit. Certainly, while an ethical will can be a wonderful gift to leave for your friends and family at the end of your life, its main importance is what it can give you in the midst of life.”
You can read Dr. Weil’s ethical will in the last chapter of Healthy Aging (pp. 236-238).
Here, then is my own ethical will. My purpose is to help others “unlock their purpose.” To do this, I have created my “Incomplete Manifesto for Purpose.” I initially wrote this for strictly personal use, summarizing my insights as they have matured over five decades.
My manifesto is incomplete. It’s incomplete because I’m a learner. The future belongs to the learners, not the knowers. I might know a lot about purpose, but I’m still curious, willing to be surprised!
My hope is that this ethical will will help you to create yours and to “unlock your purpose.”
An ethical will reminds us how we want to live our lives. It reminds us of what we value in life and how we want to live our legacy. A quick look at our ethical will reminds us of the person that we choose to be, today.
Letter to Live For
In a simple sense, an ethical will is like casting out a message in a bottle to the future, only it’s one that you can live today as well.
I encourage you to draft a short letter to someone today to write from the heart.
What are you living for? What matters? What footprint do you hope to leave as your legacy?
By Richard Leider
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Richard Leider, founder of Inventure – The Purpose Company, is one of America’s preeminent executive-life coaches. He is ranked by Forbes as one of the “Top 5” most respected executive coaches, and by the Conference Board as a “legend in coaching.” Richard has written ten books, including three best sellers, which have sold over one million copies and have been translated into 20 languages. Repacking Your Bags and The Power of Purpose are considered classics in the personal development field. Richard’s PBS Special – The Power of Purpose – was viewed by millions of people across the U.S.