How Much Are You Leaving Behind?

One of the ‘features’ of entering into the midlife transition happens to be the dawning realization of just how tenuous our connection to this plane of existence really is. I fondlimages (2) y remember evenings as a student in Ottawa, Ontario spent at the Colonel Bye lounge enjoying the comedy of entertainer Jack McPartland. More than once, I’d stay until the end of his set. He’d always end the same way: with the recitation of a poem called “The Indispensable Man,” yet it means much more to me now than it ever did then. Here it is for your edification:

Sometime when you’re feeling important, sometime when your ego’s in bloom,
Sometime when you feel that you must be the most important one in the room,
Take a bucket and fill it with water, put your hand in it up to your wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining is the measure of how you’ll be missed.You can splash all you want as you enter, you can stir up the water galore,
Pull it out and its really amazing, the hole is remaining no more.
The moral of my story is simple, do the best at whatever you can,
But always be sure to remember, there’s no indispensable man.

In the 1970’s, anthropologists from the Louis Leakey team named a newly-discovered hominid species predating any other man-like creatures previously known as ‘homo habilis‘, the ‘handy man,’ because of simple tools found among the remains. The human species has always been identified with tool-making at a level and to a degree not found among other primate species. To our very core, human beings are creative (intentional) creatures. Not only that, but we pass our creations – our technology – down from generation to generation, each iteration adding its own characteristic advances to the generations that have gone before. It’s not enough for humans merely to reproduce: even bacteria can do that. No, we humans mark our passage through this world by leaving behind a creative legacy that’s uniquely our own.

Starting a new family (even if it consists of only two members) represents a hugely significant milestone in any individual’s life. For some cultures, it serves as the passageway from childhood to adulthood. I clearly remember a schoolmate of mine, a seminarian from Tanzania, son of a tribal chieftain. Even though he was nearly thirty years old, he was considered a child at home among his people, since he had not married. Once he was ordained a priest, and the village celebrated the moment with a festival as grand as any VIP wedding, only then was he treated as an adult (and even welcomed to sit among the community elders). Still, this passage, significant as it may be, says nothing at all about you or me as distinctly human.

What sets you apart from every other creature on the planet has little to do with your relationships or even your progeny. What elevates you above and beyond pond scum derives entirely from the creative contribution that you’re willing and able to make to the furtherance of humanity. It’s all about your creative legacy. From ancient times, almost all cultures have recognized that some men and women have received an inner summons to forgo bearing children and to serve as a reminder to the rest of humanity that we have a higher purpose here. Regardless of whether or not you accept the responsibilities of parenthood, you can never be absolved of your responsibility to make a positive contribution to the whole of humanity.

Instead of being the butt of endless jokes, in a more spiritually aware society, the midlife transition should be cause for a much more significant celebration than either marriage or ordination (although perhaps that was the original focus of ordination to elder-hood). This passage into maturity enables you to take a step outside the ‘dog-eat-dog’ world of wealth and power, and outside the hassles of raising a family, to concentrate more deeply on crafting your legacy. What will you, after all, leave behind? Bank accounts, investments and property evaporate very, very quickly. They’re all a part of that ‘hole in the water’ I spoke about. Here’s a great Truth: you don’t need enormous wealth or a large family to leave a significant legacy that will affect generations to come. None of them even need to know your name. All that really matters derives from the care and insight with which you interact with those around you.

Think for a moment about the significant people in your life: it could be parents or grandparents, teachers, religious leaders, inspirational celebrities, neighbors or friends. How many of them were rich or famous? How many of them were recognized as major corporate successes? I’d be amazed if any of them were any of those things. Yet, you have a uniquely significant gift that all the rest of us are waiting for, whether or not you or we are aware of it. Your midlife images (1)transition invites you to explore and experience that creative spark within you that you’ve been ignoring and putting aside for far too long. Every day you hesitate to grab hold of it means another piece of your precious legacy has been forever lost. You don’t need to be just another hole in the water; you can make a difference; you can leave behind a legacy that transforms the world. So, what, exactly is it that you’re waiting for?

H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC
ProActivation® Coaching
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Copyright © 2008 H. Les Brown

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