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What is the Meaning of a Personal Legacy? Being remembered for . . .

What is the Meaning of a Personal Legacy? Being remembered for . . .

In the past, I have been a caregiver. The last 10 years of my father’s life for both my parents. And after his passing another 10 years for my mother. The periods after their deaths were intensive times of reflection. 

What is the meaning of a personal legacy? What do I remember most about my parents? And as a consequence: what do I want to be remembered for later?

We probably all want to be remembered for great deeds, but are we actually setting anything in motion that indeed is great? How big are our dreams and what efforts do we take to accomplish them?

How do you capture it?

the Meaning of a Personal Legacy

It is my belief that everyone has a significant role in this world. Some people only deal with it more consciously than others. It’s an interesting process. A process that we can only walk through in our head or we can write it down.

Writing down is direct and has more impact than just keeping it in our thoughts. It’s also more confronting and can be difficult. When we write it down we have to be honest. By keeping it in, we can smuggle without consequences.

Another decision we have to make is whether we will keep the document to ourselves, or that it is meant to be read by others after we have passed away. In the latter case, it is advisable to state, for example, the storage location of important papers, or what should be done with your social media accounts.

What are possible items to write about?

There are several things you can ponder about. If you need a list to get the stream of ideas going, then read on. You can choose a couple of items or try to write about all aspects. It is your document; you decide what to do with it.

For each part, you can think about how it benefited you and how it shaped you. Or what impact you have made on your environment.

1. Character

What are you going to write about?

Which characteristics of yourself do you like and which ones you would rather not have had? Did you inherit any from your parents or are you a totally different person?

My parents were old school iron eaters, always working hard and demanding a lot from themselves and from us, children. 

I have that same drive. I used to think that was one of my better qualities, but you know how it is: your strength is often also your weakness.

Nowadays my work ethic occasionally gets in the way. Relaxation is fine! 😉

2. Significant events

For the years 2020 and 2021, it’s not hard to name a significant event. The pandemic is affecting everyone, one way or the other.

North Sea flood of 1953
North Sea flood of 1953, my year of birth

The events that are important in your life don’t have to be on this world scale. Some events shape you, others have little impact. Try to think of several events and especially how they have built your character or changed your environment.

3. Knowledge

We always know more than we think. Even unconsciously, we pick up knowledge. If only by seeing headlines on the way to the supermarket checkout or by zapping in search of our favourite series.

We have taken in a lot at school. Some of this has long been forgotten, but it shaped us. Self-study, discussions with friends and experiences added to our capacities. Was any knowledge a guiding factor in your later life?

4. Skills

Our skills are partly innate, partly acquired. Either way, we have expanded them through practice and enthusiasm. We have perfected them through repetition. In a way, we developed our skills, but they formed us as well.

What skills are you the proudest of? 

My father (81): “Think things through before you start, and while working on it, keep on thinking”.

5. Creations and ideas

Skills and knowledge

Everyone is creative. I am aware that some people will dispute this, but then they usually refer to a specific kind of creativity.

Such as the so-called inability to draw. I always say: everybody can learn it. But let’s not go into it now, I already have that discussion enough in other places!

This part is about the creation and ideas we have had. If you are feeling more comfortable with the word accomplishment, it’s fine by me too.

What have we created?

6. Life wisdom

Life teaches us lessons and hopefully, we learn through experience and reflection. A dear friend of mine calls it ‘the school of life’.

My parents didn’t have a lot of formal education. They grew up in the 20s and 30s of the past century and there simply was no money to go to school. As a result, they were determined that we had to have the best education possible. At the same time, it made my mother very insecure later in life.

It always hurt me when she put herself down and said I was more educated than she was. I thought both my parents were wise. 

My mother (93): “Huh, everybody has a mobile nowadays, but they are not able to talk to each other”.

7. Children

Meaning of personal legacy: family

What type of luggage have we given our children? We want them to become great adults of course. If you don’t have children, you might have influenced nieces or nephews or neighbourhood kids.

As a child, I visited a childless woman who lived nearby. She was often alone because her husband had to go on military missions abroad. We have had an enormous positive influence on each other.

The first 1.000 days in a child’s life shape the rest of his or her life. In that respect I consider this book very interesting: Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary Trump. 

8. Social

When do we call someone a friend? Some people have a whole bunch of friends, others just a few. We can be someone who values a friend the most when he or she is not afraid to tell us the truth or kick our ass. Or we might rather keep our conversations sweet and mellow.

One of my friends still sees her kindergarten friends. Most of my friendships I have developed after my thirties. I have probably gone through too many changes to feel at home in my previous friendships.

What has been our influence on friends and how did they impact us?

Related: Avoid Loneliness. How to Make Friends When you are Older?

9. Wealth

My parents rented their house during their entire life. They didn’t have the nerve to buy one. In retrospect, a great choice, because even their little savings that ultimately remained, were resulting in a grim battle.

Our finances are important. Do you have assets or debts? What do you want to leave to your children or to a good cause? You can also decide to enjoy your money yourself by making a dream trip.

10. Practicalities 

Social Media accounts

Several of my friends are already widowed. We don’t wish that for anybody to happen, but this is life. Some had already arranged things well in advance. Others had no idea where the important papers lay, whether there were arrangements or what should be done next.

This is an aspect that is easily overlooked. We all expect that we will see changes coming well in advance and that there will be plenty of time.

Your partner will likely know more about things than your children. So what if something unexpected happens to both at the same time?

An important item to think about nowadays is what has to be done with our social media and internet legacy. Do you want your profiles to stay online and for how long? What about websites or personal blogs?

What is the meaning of your personal legacy?

In the weeks following my mother’s service I received several cards and letters from people who had known her. They spoke about her in a warm tone and remembered her as a laughing, cheerful woman. It was comforting and it made me feel so proud of her.

I want to be remembered like that too. I want to make an imprint on the world, to make a difference, to touch people with warmth and cheerfulness. 

What do you want to be remembered for? Please share it in the comment box below.

12 thoughts on “What is the Meaning of a Personal Legacy? Being remembered for . . .”

  1. Hi Hannie,

    Firstly, as a regular reader here, can I just say that this article of yours touched my heart. Plus it was lovely to see you together with the various generations of your family, JUST BEAUTIFUL.

    Your story of having to care for your mother and father reminds me a little of mine, but I can in no way relate to the length of time you had to be a personal carer.

    For me my mother went first, and from the day she left us my father lost his will to live. He somehow battled through a further 9 months without her (most people said that he died of a broken heart), but I still remember the last 3 months of his life very well.

    Unable to move, unable to do anything for himself, I became his eyes, ears, arms, hands, legs and feet.

    I now realise that my parents left behind a legacy and this is obvious whenever I say or do anything and it is also noticeable among my own family.

    Furthermore, discussions I have with people who knew my parents, shows me once more the legacy they left behind.

    Up until then I had never considered my own legacy, but we all have our own individual quirks and personalities, and even physical behaviours that will live on long after we are gone. There will be many reasons people will recall and remember us.

    I also have to say watching the TED Talk with Lauren Wasser was truly inspiring, a wonderful touch Hannie.

    I loved every second of reading (and watching) this article.


    • Oww, thank you so much, Partha. The length of time as a caregiver is not important, the intensity is. And reading your story it seems your period with your father at the end of his life was really intense. It is something to look back to and to be proud of. And like you said, it has an influence on your later life.

      It always pains me when a life at its end has to be so degenerate. Why do people have to suffer so much before their death? The mother of a friend was found on her balcony, her book still in her lap, as if she fell asleep while reading. That’s the way I would like to go as well. Doing what you love until the end, no suffering, just a peaceful passing over. Those last months of your father must have been awful.

      I don’t know how I will feel if I am the one left. At the moment I can imagine my life without Tom. The day after tomorrow is our 45th anniversary. 😀 And I can imagine your father lost his will to live. It also has something beautiful, hasn’t it? A love so profound that you want to follow each other all the way.

      Yes, Lauren Wasser is unbelievable, isn’t she? Such courage in such a young woman. Truly amazing and admirable.

      Thanks, Partha, and take care. <3

  2. I can relate to your experience too. I’ve had a period in my life where I had to stop and think about my life and most importantly about my “footprint” in this world. At that time, the situation was not so good. But after following some simple advice, I got a clear vision and I even wrote it down on a sheet of paper. In other words, I decided to leave a much better legacy after I’m gone. Anyways, before I go too far, I just wanted to say thanks for sharing this post, I enjoyed reading it, and keep up the good work!

    • A friend of mine once said “everyone deserves his own period of depression”, meaning it can be a time to take a step back and ponder about yourself. And ‘depression’ can be all kinds of things, of course. It can also mean bad luck or an illness. The point is, if you take it and learn from it, nothing happens in vain. So, good for you, Ivan, that you have been able to work your way through it and come out a better person. <3

  3. These are certainly some things to consider. What legacy do you want to leave behind?
    Some of my previous students – who already graduated high school – sometimes still contact me after I have not seen them in years and they tell me things like “I made an impression on them”, or things like that. One ex-student sent me an email and told me that she always thought of me fondly. Words like those warm my heart.

    I have done some things here in my hometown, I rescued 100s of animals and I closed down a decrepit zoo, and I like to be remembered for that, but there is also more I like to leave behind as a legacy. Your tips will help me think about this. What to do with social media … that is a good question …

    To do this, I think I need to sit down for several hours and write it all down.

    • That is so great, Christine, to get such lovely comments from former students. <3

      I had once a goal to write a letter to each person that had played a big role in my life. I wanted to sent flowers as well, but that was a bit more difficult. So I painted a bouquet of flowers and used that as a cover for a card and included 10 euros, explaining that this was meant to buy either flowers or something else that was solely for themselves. It's really great to receive compliments, but it is evenly satisfying to give them. 🙂

      Reserving thinking time for yourself is a marvelous way to get ahead in life. Good luck and take care.

  4. Hi Hannie,

    This is such a heartfelt article, and it is so important to me that I do leave a legacy. I want my legacy to still help others and inspire them to become leaders, role models and want to help others. Just like you and I do. Character building is one of the topics I discuss a lot in my videos, blogs and social media posts. As a leader, having a strong character is huge. Especially when being that example and role model.

    Creating content, resources and products that will live on after I am not here is how I want to leave my legacy. My favourite rock star, person and role model died last week…Eddie Van Halen. He had such an impact on my life from when I was about 4 years old. I look at the legacy he leaves and it is unbelievable. He has touched so many people’s lives all over the world, and I want to have a similar impact with my leadership work.

    Thank you for sharing and reminding me of how important legacy is. Keep up your amazing work.

    All the best,


    • Yes, Tom, awful that Eddie Van Halen passed away. He was even younger than me! Makes me think even harder. You will surely know he was a fellow countryman of mine, being born in Amsterdam. How did he already influence you on age 4? Did your parents listen to his music?
      It is so sweet of you to say we both are building on our legacy. Thanks! And you’re doing a great job at it.

  5. I have never spent any time seriously considering my personal legacy.
    I have always tried to live the best possible life I can in this present moment. And because I no longer live in my country or have family of close frends around, I’m not sure how, or even if, I will be remembered.

    You have given me much to to think about.
    Where this thinking will lead me, I have no idea at present, but thank you for such a thought provoking article 🙂

    • Well, I have read several of your articles on your blog, Andrew, and I think you are definitely building on a legacy. Giving it structure for yourself will probably enhance the significance. Just my 2 cents. 🙂

  6. This is an important and a wonderful article! John Maxwell the great Leadership Guru says, “Most people are going to say 1 phrase about you at your funeral… Pick it!” His meaning, of course, is that we can decide how we will be remembered by choosing how we live our lives.

    Thank you for writing this article that gives me good pause to reflect.

    • That’s a great quote, Glenn, it says it all. Thank you for adding it! It makes us trying to grasp the core of what we think is important.


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