7 Steps to Uncover Your Personal Legacy

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It’s your story, your life, your future… Choose how you want the book to end

©Sandy Peckinpah

I see it now. I’ve entered the legacy years. It’s a time when it’s now or never. It’s a time to look at my story and discern what it’s all about.  Mine is a story of romance and heartbreak. It’s a story of deep loss, and unimaginable tragedy. And yet, it’s a story of victory and triumph. I am the principal character, the warrior, the victor of my story.

And so are you.

I’d never lived life before, so I had to be my own trailblazer.  Along the way, I kept hearing people say, “You’ll be fine… time heals all wounds.” It never made sense to me. As time goes by, I became more aware of my losses and the struggle it took to survive. Huge chunks of time were missing from my book of life. Like, seeing my son graduate from high school, or watching him marry the love of his life, He died, and I no longer had that chapter in the story I had planned.

What “time” gave me, however, was the gift of clarity. It’s a tool of perspective that helps you make sense of a life you thought was random, sometimes victimized, and often chaotic.

Somewhere in the passage of time, I learned that my timeline was a great gift in realizing all that I’d experienced, and what I’d learned. In documenting my timeline, my personal greatness suddenly emerged.

And so can yours.

Do you remember the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed? The 1946 film is considered one of the most beloved films in American cinema. It’s about a family man, George Baily, a banker in the small town of Bedford Falls. He contemplates suicide after the bank misplaces money threatening the loss of the life savings of the town’s people. This was the last straw. He had always wanted to leave the town to see the world, but he always chose to help others with their dreams while sacrificing his own.

At the moment he thought all had been lost, he was about to jump off a bridge into a an icy cold river below.  Along comes his guardian angel, Clarence who takes George back in time to show him what life would have become for the people of Bedford Falls if he’d never been born.

This movie placed number one on the list of most inspirational movies of all time, and I know why. People want to believe that their lives matter. That somehow, something they did had lasting impact.

When you’re in your darkest hour, feeling alone, as though you’re the only one who feels that way, you’re actually standing at the bridge with a choice… do you walk over it or do you dive into the depths of despair?

I was there at the bridge of choice. But in the process of resurrecting my life after the loss of my son, I began to look at the subtle hidden memories of things in my history that were significant emotional events.

During my life, I’d always been a people pleaser. It was hard for me to accept help because I didn’t want to believe I needed it.  In looking back on my timeline, I now know why.

It’s as bold as a flash of lightening. My father was in the Navy and we moved 12 times before the age of 12. Moving at a young age is often traumatic and sets up life long patterns of separation, and feeling like you’re always starting over.

Because I moved so often, I developed feelings of not belonging, loneliness, and being an outsider. Even today, when I experience new situations, my mind immediately jumps back to that frightened little red haired girl on the first day at a new school. Now I know why, and I’ve learned the steps I can take to control it.

Moving was beneficial to me, too. I got used to being uprooted and traveling. It gave me a sense of adventure! I had no qualms about leaving home at 16 to join a touring musical show that went all over the world.

Noticing events and their consequences will change your life. My past is now working for me, not against me. It can do that for you too. There are steps you can take to transform the bad experiences into pivotal events that shape your future. In fact, it may just be the key to your personal success!

Here’s how to transition your life’s story

1. Set the Stage…Clear your desk, turn off social networking and emails. Turn on music or sounds that offer rhythm without lyrics. The only words you want in your head are your own. For example, try meditation or spa music on your Pandora Internet Radio.

2. Write down all of your Amazing Significant Life Events, using 1 or 2 sentences to describe. Try to do these in order from childhood until now. (Use a pencil in case you need to erase. Remember everything that had an affect on your life. As a child, did you move, change schools, leave your friends? Have you experienced significant loss, heartbreak, disappointment, divorce, financial upset? What were your successes? Try to do these in a timeline order from childhood until now.

3. On the next page, Create Chapter Headings for those events. Choose words that make the chapter headings come alive. For example, when I traveled the world at 16 in a show called Up with People, it opened my eyes to other cultures. I titled that chapter “The World Was My Home Town.” I named the chapter on my divorce: “When the Castle Walls Fell.”

4. Under each chapter, write one positive and one negative thing that shaped your life because of this incident.

5. Now write headings for future chapters and fill in the story. A few years ago, I wrote my “future” chapter about being the author of an award-winning book that would give purpose and meaning to my son’s life. My book How to Survive the Worst that Can Happen is a parent’s step-by-step guide to healing after the loss of a child. It was published this year!

6. Look back over the chapters and revelations you’ve written and create a title for your Life Story that reflects the magnitude of your life. Put that title at the top of a piece of paper. Here’s mine: “I Thought I had a Fairy Tale Life.” Other examples are Elizabeth Gilbert’s powerful memoir title is “Eat, Pray, Love” and Cheryl  Strayed’s  memoir “Wild.” Do you see how powerful those titles are?

7. Make a Statement of Legacy. Look at your story and write a statement of what you believe you’ll be known for. It can be something you did for someone that changed their life, or the rescue of a pet, or volunteering at a shelter. It can be writing a story that gave people hope, or baking a pie for the widower next door. Your work can be a great source of your legacy.  

Mine starts like this: “I, Sandy Peckinpah, am a woman who has experienced loss and heartache, but in the process of healing, I learned how to help others. I enthusiastically share my knowledge, compassion, and writing to inspire others to heal from the pain of their past, resolve the chaos that is present, and help them create a more dynamic, joyful future.”

This last step, making a personal declaration, sets you on the path to your personal legacy.

Remember, there isn't one of us who has had a life without challenge or tragedy. It's the collection of those experiences that creates the true story of who we are. They are gifts that shape us, and when shared, can change other people’s lives.

Until I looked at the chapters of my life, I never knew I had the power to take control and re-frame my life story. Knowing your chapters will guide you to writing the next chapter of your life. It’s your story, your life, and your future. Choose how you want the book to end.

We may not have the gift of time healing our wounds, but we can heal our past if we study our timeline, uncover the meaning, and resurrect our personal greatness. Without bringing our story to light, our tragedies can’t give us the gift of triumph.

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