When we look at our lives, we often tend to view them as broken into 3 distinct phases: School, Work and Retirement. But these days, when our jobs have become more fluid, when the delineation line between work and retirement is often hazy, these terms seem to come up short.
That’s why when I saw the following list in Thomas Moore’s recent book Ageless Soul, I thought, finally—here’s a guide that more accurately describes the phases of life as it relates to our modern age. From Moore’s perspective, life is comprised of 7 stages are as follows:
Educating yourself and developing talents and skills
Looking for a job that employees these abilities
Developing a career
Dealing with endings and turning points in the career
Achieving success in your own way
Shifting into the older years with an emphasis on service
Creating a legacy for future generations
Notice how stages 4 and 5 allow for the fact that it is rare for anyone to stay at one job for their entire careers. We may occasionally bounce back to stage 3, as in this day and age we often reshape our careers in mid-stream. In fact, it is not uncommon for some in our society to jump back to stage 1 in their 30s, 40s and even 50s to pursue an entirely new career direction.
What’s especially interesting is the stage 7 act of legacy.
While it may occur in the final stage of our life, I believe the idea of leaving a legacy is fluid and can occur along the way. (Think of a teacher whose lessons are so valuable they stay with you for life.) A legacy is all about our generosity and involves leaving behind something of value for others to benefit from or enjoy. Moore points out that his act has the power of giving our own lives greater value because it enables us to become “a bigger and deeper person.”
The author cites the example of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas who in 1993 published the bestselling book The Hidden Life of Dogs. Thomas used part of the money she made to purchase Cunningham Pond in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and stipulated that there be two beaches there, one for humans and one for dogs. To this day, you can visit the site and watch dogs playing on a beach that’s all their own.
Moore reminds us that “legacy is not about the size of our impact on those who will come after us, but only the fact of having been significant to someone.” So, while a legacy can involve a grand gesture, like passing on a beach home to a new generation or contributing a sum of money to a cancer research center, it can also involve much smaller and more intimate acts.
Leaving a legacy can mean passing along a treasured piece of family jewelry and the story behind it, or even more importantly, passing along a part of yourself. It’s easy to self-publish these days, and your legacy may include a short book that’s comprised of the important events that shaped your character and your innermost thoughts on what you’ve learned in this life.
It’s never too early to start thinking about your legacy. What will you leave behind?