How to Define Your Legacy

Heidi K. Isern
3 min readAug 11, 2021
photo by Philip Graves

My friend Carrie had escaped cancer. (hurrah!).

However during the surgery and wait to find out if the mass was malignant or benign there was time, too much time, to think. Legacy. Purpose. Love.

All the things we question when we face our own inevitable mortality. We were both Type A individuals. Achieving and succeeding defined us.

We spoke last night and tried to determine what mattered most as we move forward through the second half of our lives. Life is precious, especially after being confronted with losing it.

What would deem us successful human beings? Was it fame? Our family? Our career? Our master work? Or was it better simply to focus on just being a good neighbor? If we were all to die, what makes us at peace with that? What makes us say “At least I did XYZ… or “At least I was ABC…”

When I was younger I didn’t have these questions. I felt I was immortal. I drank, I smoked, I jumped off cliffs into pooling waters. I dated dangerous men and went to dangerous places (From abandoned roads of Nicaragua to bargain basement sales at Sak’s 5th Avenue). I didn’t worry about my legacy because I was too busy living my life. I was Type A, but I was type A at being a hedonist.

Now there is a nagging feeling that everything must MEAN something and I should think about my legacy. As my friend and I struggle to confront the age-old question of why we are even here, we aren’t sure the answer. What comforts us in our own short existence?

Legacy as Stories

I am coming to grips with the fact that I will never be famous. (I know, I know). Nor wealthy. Nor set up a foundation to heal the world or raise a ton of children (I have one daughter) . And rather than put all the pressure on my only child to fulfill some prophecy, I’d rather let her live as I once lived. Without worrying about what she is meant to do.

So what about me? I started thinking about my grandparents. They were not famous or wealthy or known for anything outside of kindness, craziness, and amazing dinners. Their legacy, I guess, was to provide me with good stories to hold in my heart. My grandfather’s love of classical music. My granny’s phrase “Quitchyerbellyachin” My great grandmother’s fried chicken…

Heidi K. Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker. let me help you tell your story. Published here, there and elsewhere across the world. @hisern /