Worrying about your legacy is ridiculous. Fretting over how people you will never meet will come to judge your life is not only rewardless, it’s counter-productive. It generally inhibits your ability to focus on how the living, the people you actually care about, judge you.
But, it can be extremely valuable to think about the kind of person you want to become. This shouldn’t be abstract, left stumbling aimlessly in the folds of grey matter. Make it concrete.
Write the eulogy you hope your friends would write for you. Then live it.
The quoted text below was written in response to Christopher Hitchen’s death. It was written by a random guy on Hacker News. This guy seems to consider himself opposed to much of what Christopher Hitchens spent his life prosthelytizing. And yet, I don’t think there’s a finer thing you could say about a man. It’s beautifully written:
As a person of long-held religious conviction I am deeply saddened to see this worthy adversary go. He had an uncanny ability to go straight for your mostly deeply held beliefs with the most trenchant rhetoric and yet somehow made you like him anyway.
I think it’s because with Hitchens, you knew he spoke from the integrity of his own convictions. He was nobody’s man, on no one’s bandwagon, carrying water for no political agenda other than his own desire to see the world become a better place. His libertarianism or Marxism was just a function of where his own intellect led him, and he never compromised for fashion or acceptance. That gave him gravitas, ethos. How else could you go after Mother Theresa and not get run out of…the World on a rail?
Only Hitchens. He was often compared to Orwell and H.L. Mencken, and he was one of the few writers for whom the comparison was as a peer rather than a distant echo of a greater time. Who will pick up his mantle? Who has the intellect, wit or courage of their convictions that compares with Hitchens?
At the moment I simply can’t think of anyone.
I could only work to live my life in such a way that those I cared about could deliver such praise. I could only hope to live my life in such a way that those I will never meet could be better off for my having lived.