‘Don’t wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great.’ Orison Swett Marden
Creating legacy and small opportunities
Creating legacy is about making the very best of whatever happens to you. There’s no such thing as a small opportunity; there are just ‘opportunities’, which you can make the best of or not.
Every opportunity helps you flex your legacy muscles
Never underestimate the value of small challenges to flexing your legacy muscles. Such challenges provide excellent avenues for deliberate practice.
By overcoming small challenges, you are elevating the stakes for yourself, and what may look like an insurmountable obstacle today may look minuscule in a year’s time. This is the power of improving your ability to create legacy one small step at a time.
Small opportunities and building a reputation
Another reason to do your very best with every single opportunity that comes your way, no matter how small it may seem, is that you will build a reputation as someone who does their best.
Eventually, people will begin to call you and ask if they can help you on your next legacy projects; and gatekeepers will begin to take notice of you.
Therefore, treat every opportunity you have as a way of building a brand, of convincing people that you are worth rooting for.
How are you taking advantage of the opportunities that come your way?
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‘It’s not necessarily the amount of time you spend at practice that counts; it’s what you put into the practice.’ Eric Lindross
Creating legacy and the need to practice
Creating legacy rarely happens by accident (even when it looks that way). Usually, legacy creators have to abide by the ten-year rule and use this time to continuously improve their craft through practice.
But not any kind of practice will lead to improvement. Decades of psychological research suggests that for practice activities to yield continuous improvements, they have to fall into the category of what researchers have come to call ‘deliberate practice.’
What deliberate practice is and isn’t
As researchers have argued, what most of us think of as practice isn’t what researchers mean by deliberate practice. Let’s take a concrete example. Let’s say I’d like to create legacy through writing a series of essays that I intend to publish in book form. Therefore, my aim is to become the best essay-writer I can be; how do I do that?
Most of us would assume that the answer is to write essay after essay, hoping that this will increase the quality of the output. In fact, research suggests that this approach is wrong. Instead, what I have to do in order to become a better essay writer is to find out where my weaknesses lie with respect to essay writing; and then to engage in activities specifically designed to address those weaknesses.
So for example, I may find that one of my weaknesses with writing essays is my poor understanding of structure. This means that I need to find an activity that will focus on practicing structure.
An example of such an activity would be to read high-quality essays written by someone else; not look at the article for a few days; and then write out the structure of that essay if I were to write it. By continuously doing this with a wide range of essays, my understanding of structure would improve. Then I’d move on to another weakness and design an activity specifically designed to tackle that, and so on.
The 6 characteristics of deliberate practice
Okay, I know the concept of deliberate practice is quite complicated, so I’ve written a list of characteristics that I hope will help you decide whether an activity falls in the category of deliberate practice or not:
1. Deliberate practice is an activity designed specifically to improve performance. Deliberate practice requires that you identify sharply defined elements of performance that need to be improved, and then work intently on each of them separately. As soon as you record measurable improvement with one aspect, you can move on to the next.
2. Deliberate practice often requires a someone else’s (e.g. teacher/coach) help. There’s a reason why the world’s best golfers still go to teachers. One of the reasons goes beyond the teacher’s knowledge. It’s his or her ability to see you in ways that you cannot see yourself. Without a clear, unbiased view of your performance, choosing the best practice activity will be impossible.
3. Deliberate practice activities can be repeated a lot. High repetition is the most important difference between deliberate practice of a task and performing the task for real, when it counts.
4. Feedback on results is continuously available on deliberate practice activities. Practicing without feedback is like bowling through a curtain that hangs down to knee level. You can work on technique all you like, but if you can’t see the effects, two things will happen: you won’t get any better, and you’ll stop caring.
5. Deliberate practice activities are highly demanding mentally. This applies not only for activities that are intellectual, such as my essay-writing example, but also to activities that are heavily physical.
6. It isn’t much fun. Yep, that’s the bad part, and the main reason why there are so few top performers and legacy creators. The good news though is that if you stick with deliberate practice, you are bound to see a real improvement in your performance.
By the way, if you want a really in-depth explanation of deliberate practice, read Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. A terrific book with lots of examples of how deliberate practice has helped legacy creators and other top performers improve their work in a wide range of areas of endeavour.
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‘Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyse you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.’ Bernice Johnson Reagon
Creating legacy and (not) killing yourself
Creating legacy is about stretching yourself just a little bit further every day. Where many people go wrong is that they are seized by an immediate urge to create legacy, suddenly realising that time is flying past them at dizzying speed.
So they take on legacy projects that are far beyond their current abilities, and then they work insane numbers of hours on these projects, trying to make as much progress as quickly as possible. Before the month or even the week is over, they’ve run out of energy and out of enthusiasm for the project, and then they decide that creating legacy is not something they are able to do.
I’ve seen this happening so many times I’m considering putting up a ‘health warning’ sign on my blog. Honestly, people, where did you leave your common sense? Although creating legacy does imply leaving something behind for future generations, it’s not meant to become the cause of your death, okay?
Stretching yourself – the sustainable way
Okay, so what I’m proposing instead is that you should approach creating legacy one small step at a time. For your first legacy project, choose something you can get done in under six months, or maybe even in one month. You can always challenge yourself further next time.
Also, set yourself a low and realistic target for every day you are working on your legacy project, and don’t push yourself beyond that target. This may sound counter-intuitive, but particularly on legacy projects that require creativity (such as writing), it’s better to start the new day with lots of new ideas that you didn’t get to the previous day, than stuck because you’ve run out of steam.
For example, Kate DiCamillo, the award-winning children writer, limits herself to writing only two pages a day. Even if things are going well, she stops once she has finished her two pages, because she wants to keep plenty of energy and ideas in store for the next day. I’ve recently adopted this strategy as well with my own creative writing project, and find that it’s really working.
Of course, on days when I’m brimming with ideas it feels frustrating to stop right upon reaching my target, but what I do in that case is I scribble down my ideas in the back of the notebook, so I know what to start with the next day. This means I’m usually dying to get back to writing the next day, and I know exactly where to start the day’s session.
How do you make sure you don’t push yourself too hard while creating legacy?
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‘Self-reliance is the only road to true freedom, and being one’s own person is its ultimate reward.’ Patricia Sampson
Creating legacy through DIY
The term ‘DIY’ is well-known to legacy creators – it refers to the decision to start a legacy project yourself, without waiting for the approval of the gatekeepers. For musicians, DIY might mean releasing a record without having signed with a lable; for writers, it might mean self-publishing (this blog, for example, is a classic DIY project); for actors, it might mean casting yourself in a play or a film, and then getting people together who can help you produce these.
DIY is an excellent way to create legacy. Here are Here are 8 reasons why:
1. DIY lets you make your own game. It means you can create the legacy project you want to create, rather than following others.
2. DIY is the best way to make sure things gets done. It means you don’t have to wait for the gatekeepers to let you in.
3. DIY makes you focus on the essential. When you don’t have gatekeepers and others to keep happy, and only very limited resources, you are more likely to focus on the essential actions that will move your legacy project forward.
4. DIY is empowering. It allows you independence and freedom from gatekeepers.
5. DIY helps you get your priorities right. It allows you to put energy spent on keeping the gatekeepers happy into pursuing your goal.
6. DIY follows your body cycle. It allows you to stay true to what keeps you most productive, e.g. replace the 9-5 with something that works better for you.
7. DIY gives you leverage. Let gatekeepers get in touch with you rather than you having to invest the energy you need to produce your legacy to chase them up.
8. DIY makes you become a master of budgeting. Don’t wait for the perfect circumstances. DIY can teach you to do what you can with what you’ve got. You can improve quality further once you have more resources, for now it is important to just get started.
What are your thoughts to the DIY approach to creating legacy?
‘Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconcious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character.’ Steven R. Covey
Creating legacy and behaviour patterns
In living our lives, most of us develop particular behaviour patterns. The extent to which we prepare for a job; the frequency with which we are late for appointments; the way in which we deal with circumstances in our lives that are beyond our control. Recognising such patterns in ourselves and others is invaluable for setting up legacy projects.
Using patterns in choosing people to work with
In hiring people to do a job, I have come to strongly rely on patterns. For example, I found that short-listing people with spelling mistakes on their CV tended to be a waste of my time; they tended to make an even worse impression on me in the interview, and were even late in some cases.
Similarly, as soon as I hired someone, I would start the ‘hunt’ for their strengths and weaknesses through finding patterns in their behaviour. For example, I found that those who were great at juggling various commitments were less good at becoming an ‘expert’ within a particular area. Knowing this allowed me to assign people tasks that matched their particular tendencies.
Twyla Tharp, one of the greatest choreographers of our time, writes in ‘The Creative Habit’: ‘I can size up a dancer and determine if he’s right for my company or project by the way he comes in the door and puts his bag down. That and asking him to come forward and move into fifth position will tell me all I need to know about his training, his attitude, his propriety and modesty, even his charisma.’ It’s true: our way of dealing with the world can be seen in our most minute gestures and habits.
Creating legacy through developing positive patterns
Not only do patterns help us choose the right people to work with on our legacy projects; becoming aware of our own behaviour patterns can help us prevent making the same mistakes over and over again.
A few years ago, I became aware that I had a tendency to start things with great enthusiasm, and then never finish them. I’d start writing a short story, and then abandon it after the first two pages; I’d start learning a new skill, and then stop as soon as I got bored with it. For someone wanting to create legacy like me, this pattern was a huge barrier.
So I set about changing that pattern. I took on fewer things, and then followed them through to the end, regardless of how I felt about them mid-way. I finished writing both my masters and my phd theses despite being sorely tempted to give up countless times. I kept on going to acting classes even after the novelty had worn off. And in the same spirit, I am writing my blog posts even on days like today, when I don’t feel like it.
What I’m suggesting is not that you keep on doing stuff when you don’t feel like it; some people would in fact benefit from not being so duty-bound and not finishing things once in a while. All I’m saying is that I had a particularly strong tendency of not carrying on with things after they were no longer new to me; so once I became aware of that, I decided to work towards changing this pattern in order to be better equipped for creating legacy.
What behaviour patterns are stopping you from creating legacy, and what are you doing about changing them?
‘Champions know that success is inevitable; that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback. They know that the best way to forecast the future is to create it.’ Michael J. Gelb
Creating legacy and feedback
Creating legacy is often a lonesome endeavour, even if you are lucky enough to have a good supportive network around you. The reason I’m saying this is because as the legacy creator, you alone are in charge of your legacy project.
You are the first person working on the project and the last one to leave the project, hopefully once it is completed. Your supportive network are of course there to do their bit, but you will often be the one to decide the direction things will take. And the more remarkable your project, the more unchartered the path and therefore the more likely you are to make mistakes.
So it is important that you find ways to give yourself feedback on how you are doing, and not just rely on others to tell you. Also, you should not only ask yourself for feedback at the end of the legacy project; but after reaching every single milestone, and at any other time you feel you want to evaluate how you are doing.
Which questions you should ask yourself
The easiest way to give yourself feedback is to use the same questions every time. If there are things not covered by these questions, you can of course consider these as well; but the questions are there to ensure you cover all the things related to your work on the legacy project.
Here are five questions that I ask myself after reaching every milestone, or at any other time I need to give myself feedback:
1. What worked? Which factors within your control did you use to your advantage?
2. Why did it work? What things did you do to make the above factors work? Writing them down will remind you to repeat them in the future.
It is important to list the factors that did work, and why they worked, because it’s easy to take them for granted. If you don’t write them down you’re likely to forget that they worked because you did something specific about them.
3. What could have worked better? Speak to yourself as positively as possible when asking yourself about this. Don’t phrase it as ‘what did I do wrong?’, for example, and only focus on the factors that were within your control.
4. Why could it have worked better?
5. What am I going to do next time? This should be a list of exactly what you need to keep remembering to do, and what you need to work on.
Can you think of any other questions to ask?
A few extra tips on giving yourself feedback
It is essential that you write your answers to all five questions. Don’t just give yourself the feedback mentally; by writing the answers down, you are bringing them to your conscious awareness and are more likely to take action based on this feedback.
Also, remember to give yourself this type of feedback consistently, even if it seems obvious or repetitive to write down every little thing. If you answer your questions after you reach every milestone of your legacy project, and take action based on your answers, your work on the project can’t help but improve.
If you can you think of any other tips on giving yourself feedback, let me know.
‘My father always told me just worry about the things you can control and don’t worry about anything else. I can’t control the number of games we play. As long as we keep playing the way we’re playing, that’s the most important thing to me.’ Brian Hill
Creating legacy and the control factor
Creating legacy is strongly connected to our ability to focus on the things we have control over, and disregard those things we cannot control.
It is of course important that you prepare before starting a legacy project, and that you have a plan for what you are hoping to achieve. But once the work on the legacy project starts, i.e. once our nicely defined plan meets reality, things are bound to change, often quite dramatically.
The ‘in my control vs. outwith my control’ list
Here’s a really simple and handy tool to figure out what you can and cannot control. Just grab a big sheet of paper and split it into two colums. In the first column, list the things connected to your legacy project that are within your control. In the second column, list those things that are outwith your control.
For example, on my list I’ve got things like ‘discipline’ and ‘persistence’ in the ‘within my control’ column; and I can of course break these general concepts down into concrete actions, such as ‘work on my legacy project Mon-Fri for 1 hour, from 10 to 11 am’ and ‘send out my funding application for the legacy project to one potential funder each week’.
Now, this is the most basic version of the list. Here is an extra layer of complexity: split the list into two rows, making one about short-term concerns and the other about long-term concerns connected to your legacy project. This means you will end up with four squares: ‘within my control – short term’; ‘within my control – long term’; ‘outwith my control short term’ and ‘outwith my control – long term’.
Try making a list like this for yourself and let me know how you get on. Also, what other tools do you use to keep focused on those things you can actually control, in working on your legacy project?
‘We achieve inner health only through forgiveness – the forgiveness not only of others but also of ourselves.’ Joshua Loth Liebman
Creating legacy and procrastination
Let’s face it: a sizeable portion of the time spent on creating legacy is actually spent procrastinating. I don’t like to admit it, but procrastination is part of the game.
Sometimes, we procrastinate for months or even years before starting a legacy project. And then once we start, the only really productive time is the legacy project honeymoon. Then we start procrastinating in the back-to-reality phase, all throughout the motivation slump, and by the time we’ve reached the last 100 metres we are champions of procrastination. I know I should probably talk in the first person here, but seriously – doesn’t that sound painfully familiar?
Forgiving yourself and moving on
It’s taken me a few years to realise, but one of the best ways to stop myself from procrastinating is to forgive myself for it. And just the other day, I came across a social psychological study that provided some evidence that this is indeed a highly effective method.
The study found that university students who had procrastinated in the first semester but who had forgiven themselves in the second semester did significantly better in their academic work than students who did not forgive themselves.
At first glance, the findings appear counter-intuitive: surely forgiving yourself for procrastinating would indicate that you’re too easy on yourself, and therefore more likely to keep on procrastinating. But the researchers who reported the findings suggested an interesting explanation of the findings.
They argued that the findings may be due to the fact that we often tend to avoid tasks that are associated with negative feelings. So those students who felt guilty about their previous procrastination kept on avoiding their academic study; whereas those students who forgave themselves managed to get back on track in the second semester.
And based on personal experience, I think the researchers were right: forgiving yourself for procrastinating certainly does the trick, and it will help you get back on track on your legacy projects.
How to forgive yourself
Deciding to forgive yourself is one thing, but you may find that you don’t know where to start. Here are a few tips on how to do it that work for me and that you might find useful:
1. Wait until the start of a new day to forgive yourself. There’s no point forgiving yourself when you’re tired; you might as well go to bed and get a good night’s sleep. If you then start the next day by forgiving yourself, you’ll be very likely to do a decent day’s work on your legacy project.
2. Speak to yourself as if to another person. For example, say ‘I forgive you’ rather than ‘I forgive myself’. I often find that I’m more lenient towards other people than I am towards myself. If you’re the same, speaking to yourself as if to another person will be more effective than speaking in first person.
3. Only forgive yourself; don’t make excuses. Forgiving yourself is not the same as making excuses. As soon as you say ‘I forgive you, and I know that you were tired yesterday and needed a break etc.’, you immediately give yourself license to make the same mistakes today. So just focus on forgiving yourself.
4. If saying it doesn’t work, write it down. Simply write a letter to yourself as if you were writing to a dear friend who has wronged you but whom you forgive from the bottom of your heart. By writing it out, you are clarifying what it is that you forgive yourself for. So often, it is only by clarifying our feelings of guilt for past behaviour that we can eliminate these feelings and start afresh.
How do you forgive yourself for procrastinating?
‘If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. ‘ Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Creating legacy and working with others
You cannot complete a legacy project on your own. Whether you need practical help, emotional help, or even just inspiration, you need a supportive network around you to help you get through the dark times and enjoy the good ones.
Do you need inspiration on how to build a supportive network? Here’s a list of 12 tips that work for me:
1. Build win-win situations. Whenever you meet someone with potential, think of ways in which you may be able to collaborate with that person so you each have something to gain. Talented people are a lot more likely to help you if they can further their own aims while doing so.
2. Be human. People are much more likely to help if you treat them as people, not just a means to getting your legacy project completed. Take a keen interest in the people you’d like to include in your supportive network, and you may find that some of them will volunteer to help without you having to ask them.
3. Build mutual trust. Trust is the most important aspect of supportive networks, so you should only include people you can trust and who trust you back. Otherwise, you will miss opportunities of making the most of people’s talents and your legacy projects will suffer as a result.
4. Make people passionate about your cause. It is much easier to motivate people to work hard on your legacy project if you can make them passionate about it. So when deciding on your legacy project, ask yourself if it is something other people could also believe in.
5. Be a role model to others and they will follow. Don’t delay starting your legacy project due to lack of help. Get things going yourself, and set an example to others. If what you are trying to achieve is inspiring, you’ll soon find followers.
6. Chit-chat is important to establish rapport. Don’t forget the value of establishing a rapport with people before asking for their help. Chit-chat may seem like a waste of time when you’re in a rush and just want to get something done, but when it comes to getting someone’s help it’s invaluable. And don’t forget point no. 2: be human.
7. Become a gatekeeper. In building your supportive network, remember that one of the roles you’ll have to embrace is to protect people within the network from parasites and leeches. Otherwise, you’ll find that people are leaving your network due to being ‘assaulted’ by others for various favours.
8. Learn to be assertive and friendly. This is a very difficult combination to master, so don’t worry if it takes you a while before getting the balance right. Basically, what you’re aiming for is for people to like working with you while respecting your boundaries and the needs of the project.
9. Never forget the people who helped you once you succeed. Your supportive network will be vital if your legacy project becomes a success. Remember the people who have helped you, and ask them to keep you grounded; they’re the ones who stuck by you when things were rough, so you can trust them far more than the people who only took an interest in you once you made it.
10. Don’t use people. No matter how important your project is to you, there is no excuse for using people. Treat anyone who helps you with the respect they deserve.
11. Make the first move to give. Don’t just ask people for help; offer to help them first. We are all biased into helping those who help us, so as long as you don’t target parasites and leeches don’t worry about people abusing your generosity. We all like helping those whom we perceive as nice and friendly, so the more you give the more people will want to help you get your legacy project through to completion.
12. Leverage the power of many. Don’t ask for a lot from only a handful of people. If you’ve got a large supportive network, asking people to do only one task will add up to an enormous amount of progress very fast – which is why it is important to be good at building a strong wide network in the first place. Asking lots of people to do only one or two things that are easy for them to do means that you can keep more control over the direction over your legacy project, plus it means you’re not running the risk of getting people exhausted while helping you out.
How are you building your supportive network? Any more ideas would be very welcome.
‘Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.’ Oscar Wilde
Creating legacy and (not) fitting in
From a very young age, we’re told we have to fit in. Whether it’s our family, our classroom, our peers – the messages we get are usually about comforming to the crowd rather than standing out.
In Australia, they have the term ‘tall poppy syndrome’ to refer to someone who stands out and is therefore taken down by their peers; the lesson there is not to stand out too much or you’ll be taken down.
Creating legacy may make it difficult for you to fit in
Now, the trouble is that if you set your sights on creating legacy, chances are that you won’t be fitting in too well; you’ll be the tall poppy that others will want to take down. And if your legacy project does not become successful in the conventional sense of the word (i.e. bring you money, fame, and lasting glory), people will enjoy making fun of you even more for having dared to do something different with your life.
So, if you’d like to go down the path of creating legacy, you’ve got to seriously consider the consequences of your decision for your ability to fit in. There are of course legacy creators who seem to fit in despite following an unconventional lifestyle. Elizabeth Gilbert, for example, author of Eat, Pray, Love talks about how she tends to immediately make friends no matter where she is and what she is up to. But most of us legacy creators don’t manage to make our unconventional lifestyles as inconspicuous. So we stick out like a sore thumb.
Ask yourself this question
The question you’ve got to ask yourself is: is creating legacy worth the risk of not fitting in? There is no right or wrong answer; it depends entirely on you. But it’s probably best you ask yourself this question before you begin on the path of creating legacy, otherwise you may find yourself constantly zig-zagging between trying to fit in and making the tough choices that creating legacy often requires.
Do you think that creating legacy makes fitting in difficult?
I am a social entrepreneur, blogger, and talent scout, interested in helping people who want to create legacy. I have recently completed my PhD thesis in social psychology at the University of Edinburgh, and am originally from Romania. I am writing a daily blog on creating legacy, which you can find at www.alexaispas.com