What Will Your Legacy Be?

Goals and Permanent Records

I recently watched the Amazon Prime documentary, Rooney, which recounts much of the life and career of retired professional footballer, Wayne Rooney. Today, Rooney is only 36 years old, but he has been in the public eye since bursting into the English Premier League as a 16-year-old goal scorer and has experienced a lot of life over the last 20 years.

As a Manchester United fan, I have followed Rooney’s career closely and have many fond memories of the incredible things he did on the pitch. He is the all-time leading goal scorer for both United and the England National Team, and the way he played the game will not soon be forgotten. Rooney led with aggression and power and on his day, he was unplayable. There were other times when his aggression turned to rage, which led to some less fond memories, but emotion was part of what made him great on the field. Without it, he would not have been the same.

Rooney is also well known for his off the field transgressions. Well covered in the English media, he has brought public embarrassment to his family and teams at various points during his playing career. Making high-profile mistakes in the public eye means that Rooney and his family will have to live with the reminders of his mistakes – they are never more than a click away from being revisited.

During one of the interviews in the documentary, Rooney is asked what he hopes that he is remembered for. As his generation’s top goal scorer, with a dozen major trophies to his name, and many more individual awards, you could assume that he would cite his accomplishments as a soccer player.

Rooney’s response, however, surprised me.

“I want to be remembered for who I am, not what I’ve done.”

Without speaking to the man, it is impossible to understand exactly what he means by this, but when I watched him say it, I wanted to believe that he has matured to the point that he understands who he is – as a husband, as a father, and as a man – has come to mean more to him than his accomplishments and that his mistakes do not define him.

Nearly a decade into fatherhood, I sometimes think about legacy. What will the life I am building be remembered for when I am gone?

Building Blocks

Our thinking on this topic largely depends on the stage of life we are in. As a young man, I tended to focus on what I was building rather than legacy. I had a desire to make my mark, and for me the place where I had the most success was in my career.

Working in relatively junior positions in the first companies I worked for, I would look at the leadership – the people in the big offices – and imagine what it would be like to be them. I thought the rules of the game were relatively straightforward. If I could return good value compared to what was expected of me, then in return I could expect to see career advancement. I dreamt of building a career, almost like a trophy, one that would be admired and respected by others.

I would not have put it in these words a fifteen years ago, but I saw a lot of my value and worth as a person in what I could provide through work. I hoped that what I would accomplish as a professional would be significant and meaningful, both financially and how it would impact others.

What we do for work is important, but not more important than who we are. Becoming a father nearly a decade ago has helped me realize this and I am grateful that I have realized the importance of being present to my kids while they are still young.

Because no matter how successful we are in our careers or how much money we make, our real legacy lies elsewhere. Our legacy is found in the influence that we have on others, particularly our families, even after we are long gone.

Short Memories

For Wayne Rooney and other public figures of note, the world will have a long memory of their achievements. These will be recorded and accessible by anyone. For the rest of us, we need to face the reality that the world will forget us within a few years of us passing on.

If you want proof of this, ask yourself the names of your great-great-grandparents. How about your great-grandparents? You have four sets of them. How many can you name?

This is not meant to sound nihilistic (I will come back to this from a hopeful angle in a moment), just an observation on the futility in building ‘things’ for the sake of being remembered. Rather than the accomplishments, if we focus on people and the influence we can have, it provides a real opportunity to make a lasting impact on the world.

My career, accomplishments, or any wealth I accumulate are unlikely to last longer than a few years once I am gone. While it is prudent to plan and hope to provide for our families, Matthew’s gospel warns of focusing too much on material legacy. Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Mt 6:19-21, emphasis added).

Who I am as a husband, how I show up as a father, the way I treat those that are in my care, these are the things that can create a lasting difference. The influence we have on others can outlast our names – even if the world forgets our names, our contributions can live on.

Your Name Does Matter

The world might forget your name, but it is important to remember that God is bigger than the world, and to Him, each individual is unique and precious. My journey in faith came alive when I encountered God the Father in a personal relationship and realized that He is deeply interested in relationship with me. This interest is true for each of us.

Coming to this realization brought me to a place of security. Being a son of the Father means that I do not have to ‘do’ anything to prove my worth. My accomplishments and failures do not define me as a person. I am defined by my relationship with Him.

Knowing this, I don’t have to put so much pressure on myself to build up a kingdom for myself. I can focus instead on the little portion of His Kingdom that has been assigned to me to take care of.  When I make my relationship with God the treasure in my life, it will ensure that my heart stays focused and present on the right things.

Legacies that are concerned with material goods and status will fade with the years. A strong relationship with God, where we are present as who we are, while inviting others to encounter the same is a legacy that will never fail.

– Sean

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