How will you outlive your life? What will you be known for? The question of legacy stirs people’s hearts every single day. In Chris Brady’s critically acclaimed book, PAiLS, he defines and illustrates the meaning of legacy at its core in the final four chapters. In fact, one of his key commentaries can be found near the end, where he explains the formula for leaving a legacy in one sentence. Here is that section, lifted in its entirety:
One Sentence - by Chris Brady
George Washington won the Revolutionary War. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. Billy Graham preached the gospel. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for civil rights. Roger Staubach played quarterback. Evel Knievel jumped motorcycles. Bill Cosby does family comedy. Pat Sajak hosts game shows. Henry Ford launched the auto industry. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. Gandhi peacefully freed India. Nelson Mandela peacefully overcame apartheid. Lech Wałęsa founded Solidarity in Poland. Mother Teresa served the orphans and the dying in Calcutta. Phyllis Diller did comedy. Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul. Louis Armstrong brought in the Jazz Age. Lewis and Clark explored the West. Custer got massacred at his “last stand.”
This entirely random list of noteworthy people, both dead and contemporary, illustrates a profound insight. Clare Boothe Luce, the first American woman to become a major overseas ambassador for the United States, was also an accomplished author. She once told John F. Kennedy one of the most insightful statements anyone determined to live a meaningful life could hear: “A great man is one sentence.”
What she meant was that the accomplishments, example, or legacy of the greatest people can be summed up in one sentence. Each of the people listed in the paragraph above can have their entire life’s work summarized with just one phrase. I didn’t come up with those sentences myself. I played a little game with many different people and told them to respond with one sentence to describe each of the people on the list. What resulted was a strikingly similar list of answers. In some cases, you may note, the answers aren’t even exactly accurate. Nonetheless, that is how history has come to categorize what each person did, stood for, contributed, or accomplished.
When it comes to leaving a legacy, it might do you wonders to think through this idea of a single sentence to summarize your life.
If you died today, what do you think that sentence would be? What would you like it to be? Are they one and the same? Or is it too soon to tell? Perhaps you’ve got a single sentence you’d like to have said about you and your life’s contribution. If so, does that align with your current path and actions? If not, what changes do you need to make to get things heading in that direction?
By the way, nearly everyone desires to have a sentence such as “was a good mother,” “was a good dad,” “was a good husband,” etc. These are monumentally (excuse the pun) important. But having a sentence beyond that, something bigger, something more, is not a bad thing. Accomplishing something else significant does not have to come at the expense of being a wonderful family member. I say this because many people come up with nothing more than familial summarizations, and this is fine, as long as it doesn’t become an excuse to go no further with one’s life. For who’s to say what you were built to do except for you and your Creator? It’s up to you to discover and determine, and it might just surprise you!
What will be your legacy, in one sentence?
(Posted by Kristen Seidl, on behalf of Chris Brady)