‘The heights charm us, but the steps do not; with the mountain in our view we love to walk the plains.’ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Creating legacy is not about the big prize at the end
Most people think of creating legacy in terms of the big picture: the published book; the gold medal; the finished building. After all – the big picture, the finished product, this is what the newspaper articles are all about. This is all we generally get to hear about creating legacy.
Creating legacy is hard graft
In the film Amadeus, director Milos Foreman showed us Amadeus at the height of his creative accomplishments. He didn’t show us how Mozart got to be Mozart. As Twyla Tharp, the choreographer for the movie notes, you wouldn’t have liked that picture. You would have been bored to watch a film about Mozart’s many years of practicing and composing under the watchful eye of his ambitious father, day by day, until by the age of twenty-eight, his hands were nearly deformed.
But this is what creating legacy is about, in practice. Daily, boring, hard, graft. This doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. Once you accept the idea that creating legacy is more about the small steps you take every day, rather than the big celebration at the end, you get to enjoy the small steps. As long as you understand that the award ceremonies and the hype usually only happen after you have created legacy, not during, and as long as you have picked a legacy project you want to complete regardless of success or failure, you’ll have a great time.
Creating legacy when you don’t feel like it
The reason I’m thinking about these things is because I’ve been pushing myself really hard over the past few weeks, I’ve forgotten to take care of myself, and it’s starting to show. Yesterday, I had to cancel an appointment because of too much else going on. Then I got totally stuck in the middle of performing a scene during my acting class. And today I woke up feeling completely demotivated to do anything at all. Not good.
My morning ritual (typing up my notes from yesterday) helped to get me out of bed and doing something productive. But after that I was so exhausted I was strongly tempted to go back to bed. I didn’t have any appointments until 4pm, so I could have done. And yet, I didn’t. Why? Because I hadn’t done my bit to create legacy today.
So I got myself out of the house and into the cafe where I normally do my creative writing session every day. I started the session by writing in my diary that I felt so rough I didn’t think I could get any real work done, but I’d sit there for an hour anyway, regardless. One hour with nothing to do is boring – so not surprisingly, after about 10 minutes my brain got into gear, and I ended up writing about three pages in tight handwriting. Not bad at all for an hour’s work on a day such as this one.
When I got back home, I felt totally exhausted, but victorious. I had done my bit on my creative writing legacy project. I made some phonecalls to organise the meetings for next week, then I ended up having to have a nap to shake some of the exhaustion off me. But now I’m back on my feet writing this blog post – i.e. working on my non-fiction legacy project. And in the afternoon, I’ve got three meetings, all related to another legacy project I’m planning to start in a couple of months. Such is the daily life of a legacy creator.
This is not a usual day, in that I’m taking things a lot easier than usual. I could have bypassed the nap and gotten more work done. And I could have woken up earlier this morning. But this would have probably led me to being even more exhausted, and made it harder to keep going. Besides, how much work I got done today isn’t that important. The important bit is that I have made some progress on each of my legacy projects, regardless of how demotivated I am feeling.
So today, I’ve won the battle against Resistance. Tomorrow I might lose that battle, who knows? Every day is a new beginning. If I do lose the battle tomorrow, if the exhaustion I’m feeling gets the better of me, that’s okay. You’ve got to try to win as many battles as you can, but in the end it’s about winning the war, so I’ll be back on my horse the day after that.
I also know I shouldn’t have pushed myself this hard. I’ve made a mistake, but I’m not going to let that stop me from keeping going, one small step at the time. Mistakes are good, as long as we learn from them. And sometimes, while working on legacy projects, it’s tempting to forget about your body’s needs, and to keep pushing through the pain. An easy mistake to make, and one that I’ll have to learn to avoid in the future.
The reason I’m writing all this is because if you’ve got little experience of working on legacy projects, it’s only fair to warn you that the daily grind of creating legacy isn’t glamorous. Even if my legacy projects gather traction I won’t see the ‘big picture’ result for years to come – especially with my creative writing legacy project. But this is the real thing – not some hyped story of fame and fortune. If you want to create legacy, you need to understand and accept this. Don’t let the newspaper articles fool you into believing overnight success stories. Stick with the hard graft. And keep going.
What about you?
How are you creating legacy every day? Can you share any of the ways you use to make progress, even when feeling demotivated? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.
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