What do I want my legacy to be? 2/2

The last post was about my personal plan to answer this question. This post is about the question itself, which I believe is THE question that we should all ask ourselves whenever we lose a sense of direction in our lives. It is the evolved “What should I do with my life?,” a question that has symbolized both mankind’s victory (gaining control over our destinies) and defeat (losing it again—read the question aloud), and also the title of a book I have read several times.

The author, Po Bronson, started writing the book by throwing out the titled question and listening to the overwhelming replies. His initial motivation was to get inspiration for dealing with his own life crisis; he ended up not only writing a bestseller but also setting his life on course (more about this later). For me, the book didn’t offer any solutions but helped me feel comfortable dealing with my doubts. I felt like I was working with a top-notch therapist who charges only one-time fee of $20.

But while “What should I do?” remains an important question for many of us, it can also slow our lives down by allowing us to (1) ponder the “choices” we still have and (2) take our lives too seriously. We all love pondering this question. But what we really should do is to move on with our lives, not just pause. Otherwise we are…spending a long time thinking about how not to waste our time.

The new question “What do I want my legacy to be?” deals with the same issue—how to spend the rest of our lives—but turns the focus around from “us” to “them.” It reveals that (1) the long-term outcome matters more than our next step, and also (2) slaps our face gently to remind us that it’s not just about us anymore. We realize that we need to keep up with the rest of the world because it, or the people we care about, just keep on going. This question not only makes us think, but also makes us move: Time to move on. Change the direction if you want, but don’t stop walking.

We can see what happens when someone moves away from “What should I do?” in none other than Po Bronson himself. His follow-up book was “Why Do I Love These People?”, again a collection of interviews but with an important change: This time it focused on one’s relationship with his family. His next (and latest at this point) book “Nurtureshock” went even further: It revealed various misconceptions about how we treat our offspring. The evolving topics show a clear trend: From Us to Them.

It is not just the topics that have kept changing in Po Bronson’s books. During the course of writing these two books, he has gradually shed his trademark style (intuitive monologue with a touch of sarcastic humor) and started presenting logical discourse backed up by research, similar to other “business books” in the market. It is as if he has transformed into a different persona. I used to think he has lost his mojo, sold out, or even deserted us loyal readers. I still love his old humor, but now I think of his transformation positively.

Therefore, I think the reply to the good old “What should I do?” is to twist it into “What can I do (for them)?” Or if we still prefer a clear-cut solution, how about this: Grow out of it.