Leaving Behind A Legacy For The World To Remember

Legacy

by Peer Lawther (Flickr)

If you have anything really valuable to contribute to the world it will come through the expression of your own personality, that single spark of divinity that sets you off and makes you different from every other living creature.
~Bruce Barton

When Steve Jobs spoke about putting a dent in the universe, he wanted to inspire people to do something great. To do things that would change the world around them. And, there are two kinds of people who want such a change. Those who want the world to be better for themselves; and those who want the world to be better for everybody. But, most of the people lie towards the center of this scale. Balancing the selfishness with the selflessness within ourselves. And, in maintaining that balance, we have a choice. To be significant or to contribute beyond ourselves.

Striving to be worthy

It is a natural for people to seek significance. Even though we live in complex social settings (or perhaps, because we do) the need to be seen as unique, as an individual, is present in all of us. It is the reason why everybody wants to be rich or famous, or both. And, it is not individuality unless it is acknowledged by others. This need for recognition manifests itself in our everyday behavior  Have you ever had the experience of someone correcting you when you were speaking in a group, or perhaps done it yourself? In conversations, we always put an emphasis on voicing our opinion and experience. And, the failure to be noticed or acknowledged by others always leaves a bad taste in the mouth. The feeling that we matter less than others does not sit well with us. So, we strive to be worthy.

On the other hand, there are people like Steve Jobs and Seth Godin. When they talk, people listen. When a new Eminem or Shakira video is uploaded to YouTube,  it gets millions of views. When George RR Martin and JK Rowling launch books, people line up outside bookstores to buy them. These people are icons in our society, shining examples of success. We are drawn to them and their uniqueness. They are significance personified. And, I believe there’s a reason for this. These people place an emphasis on contribution over significance. They choose to share and serve. In return, they are acknowledged by others for their contribution. Like us, they started out as regular people. But, unlike us, they chose to fulfill their need for significance by contributing to the world.

Giving your gift to the world

It is a choice that is open to us as well. It might be a simple choice, but it is a tough decision. The simplicity is that all you have to do is be and express yourself. Whether it is through the conventional creative medium of art, music, or poetry. Whether it is through the application of your creativity as an entrepreneur to find and resolve problems that people have. Whether it is by being creative to form superb relationships with different kinds of people, bringing them together, and working as team in an organization. Creativity is an expression of your true self. What you are beneath all the layers of social dogma. It is what your souls is, the one that wants to do good. To contribute, you must make the decision to set your soul free.

A decision though, that is not easy to live with. Freedom is not gained as easily as flicking a switch. Contribution is not easily acknowledged. It is a path full of disappointment, failures, and rejections. Loneliness and fear are constant companions. To seek freedom you will have to defy social norms, put on your wings of wax and fly close to the sun. You will get beaten down, but you have to get back up every time if you want to let your soul fly free. As the saying goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Expressing your true self, helping others, making their lives better, and doing it because it is its own reward. That is what contribution is. You can choose to be significant in a world full of people trying to do the same. Or, you can choose to make the lives of others significant. The journey begins by wanting to make a dent in the universe. But, it is paved by making a difference one small step at a time. Help someone today by listening to their problems. or surprise someone by sketching their portrait. Give of yourself, as a gift. Do it again tomorrow. And again, the day after that. A few years down the line, when you look back, you will find that you have left behind a legacy. Isn’t that what you truly desire? To leave behind a legacy, of having changed the world for better.
What is the legacy you dream of leaving behind?

Infected by the Perfection Virus

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Although images of perfection in people’s personal lives can cause unhappiness, images of perfect societies – Utopian images – can cause monstrous evil. In fact, forcefully changing society to conform to societal images was the greatest cause of evil in the twentieth century
~Dennis Prager

Perfection, by definition is a quality, trait, or feature of the highest degree of excellence (Dictionary.com). It is an ideal that represents the absolute peak and ought to be what everyone and everything strive for. When we hear the word perfection, we tend to associate it with a static end point. An ideal beyond which there is no scope of improvement. However, perfection is extremely subjective and transient in nature. For e.g., my perfect coffee would be black with a hint of cream and sugar; I am sure it will not be exactly same for you. And I would definitely take cold coffee over hot on a summer day. So, not only does the perfection of an object or idea change from person to person, it also changes for the same person over time. This makes me think about why the concept of perfection would exist at all.

It seems to me that perfection, even as an abstract concept, is the root cause of much unhappiness. How can people be happy when they are always comparing themselves to what they ought to be, the feeling that what they are isn’t enough. The average guy who has a desk job wants a body like the Hollywood actors. The guy at the gym, who has a great body, wants a high paying job like his lawyer friend. The lawyer wants a less stressful job like a primary school teacher. And, it never stops. There will always be something in your life that someone has more of. There will always be another person who is better than you at what you are doing. If you compare the bad experiences of your life to the good experiences of others, you are only setting yourself up for disappointment.

Another aspect of perfection is that it is purely one dimensional. For you, a girl might have the perfect face, but that doesn’t mean that she would be a good girlfriend. Your friend might have the perfect work life balance, but he might not have the level of income that you desire. As human beings we tend to look at other people from a distance and judge their life as perfect and thus, devalue our own in comparison. Just because a person works in the country’s top bank and drives a luxury car doesn’t mean his life is perfect. You are just seeing what you would like to have in your life and basing your judgement on that sole fact. Then why is it that our society is obsessed with perfection? Knowing that it only makes people unhappy and by the very definition, there is no achieving it.

Perfection does have a role to play, and a very important one at that. Any perfect thing is an epitome of experience or achievement for people to strive for. Perfection acts as an aspiration or motivation for people. The perfect home, the perfect car, the perfect holiday etc. are some rudimentary examples of things that most people work hard for. How the end result matches up to their expectation is irrelevant to their having worked hard to get to that perfect result. So, perfection is in the mind of a person, i.e., the idea of the perfect object is the motivator rather than the object itself. This means that other ideas can act as motivators too. Like the idea of being known as a successful businessman or a religious guru. When such ideas lead an individual to action that actually contributes value to other peoples’ lives, then how can the idea of perfection not be an important cog in the working of our society?

The problem, as I see it, is not the concept of perfection but the use it is being put to –  Comparison to perfection and degradation of reality. Instead of looking at the perfection and appreciating how much work and effort would have gone into making it so, people just think “I’m never going to be as good as that.” For e.g., your presentation might not be as good as the one a colleague of yours had made, so you give a nominal effort to make it because you think it is never going to be as good. Thus, you are ensuring it is never going to be as good. Instead, if you had given it your all and it still wouldn’t have been good enough, realize how much effort your colleague would have put into his presentation. Now, it is up to you to decide whether you want to increase your effort or to be satisfied with the current result. The chain of events hold true for your life as well. Are you willing to put in 18 hour workdays for 5 years straight to be able drive around in a Mercedes E Class? Are you willing to work without using up a single leave throughout the whole year so that you can take 3-4 weeks off to visit your dream destination? The point is, it is the easiest thing in the world to sit and cry about your life, looking at all the magazines and blogs about how people are living it up. Unfortunately, that seems to be the status quo in our society. Everyone looks at the results and ignores the effort. The end overshadows the means. The onus to become perfect is on you. You might never achieve perfection in whatever field you choose, but when you are better than the best, you will become the poster boy for perfection. Perfection then, unlike what everybody tells you, is in walking the path harder and longer than anyone else.