3 ways to leave an honest legacy

This is a guest post by Jeff Goins, a writer who lives in Nashville and works for Adventures in Missions. He just published an eBook called, You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One). You can check out his blog, follow him on Twitter, or connect with him on Facebook. His wife just gave birth to their first baby (four weeks early!) last week. You can see the baby here. You know you want to.

When I was in college, I spent a semester studying in Seville, Spain. Every day, I was surrounded by beautiful art and ancient architecture. It was both inspiring and intimidating.

One day, my friend Martha and I took a trip to La Giralda, the impressive tower adorning the world’s third-largest cathedral.

After we ascended the staircase, we looked out the window and stared down at the city, watching the thousands of passersby. We could see everything: La Torre de Oro, the Guadalquivir River, so many parks and places to eat.

As we walked back down to the ground level, we went into the sanctuary, which was ornately decorated with intricate paintings by Murillo and historic landmarks, like the alleged burial place of Christopher Columbus. That’s when Martha said it: eight words I’ll never forget.

“I wonder what kind of legacy I’ll leave,” she said. And it hung in the air for all to hear.

We were surrounded by over nine centuries of art, and my friend wanted to know which of her creations would last this long. Which one would stand the test of time and still be standing in another thousand years.

For the first time ever, I wondered the same.

We all want to do something meaningful with our lives. We want to create and share work that changes people. This, I believe, is hard-wired into the human spirit, this need to make art.

So what do we do? How do we begin this journey of leaving a legacy?

1. Admit who you are.

All activity flows from identity. If you don’t believe you are something, you can’t do it. Just so you know, whether you realize it or not, you’re an artist. A craftsperson, a writer, a stylist. Anytime you do something that requires skill and creativity (and let’s face it — everything does), you’re creating art.

2. Expect resistance.

We all want to put a dent in the universe. But tragically, most of us won’t. Why? One word: resistance. That unseen, malevolent force that prevents us from making a difference. Often, it disguises itself as procrastination or fear, but it’s something far more sinister.

This evil, personal force wants to steal, kill, and destroy your art. It’s circling you like a lion, ready to devour. So what do we do? We let it control us. We sabotage ourselves with seemingly humble words like, “wannabe” or “aspiring.” We tell ourselves we’ll pursue our passion… some day. All the while, our enemy wins.

3. Live.

Stephen King once said, “Life is not a support system for art… it’s the other way around.” In other words, it’s not the job of your life, your family, your friends to help you write, sing, play, or work. Those things come from the depth of the life you live.

In other words, if you want to create more beautiful art, live a better life. Go for walks, swing on the swing set, eat ice cream (with a cherry on top) — relish the moments, the gifts, the freedom we’ve been given.

Then, dear artist, you can create. And you will leave a legacy.


  1. says

    Reading this, I envision art as a sort of scaffolding for a life lived fully. And behold, God in His vast creativity has given us a huge head-start by filling this world with the most amazing works of art.

    Like my 10-year-old daughter loves to say, “God has an overactive imagination.” I want to live a full life up against that imaginative beauty.

  2. says

    What an encouraging way to start a morning … (good to see you here in Emily’s place, Jeff Goins and congrats on your new little one!)

  3. says

    I am reading this at a very good time. However, I disagree that resistance is unseen. Sometimes it can be seen. Sometimes she is human. I know, because I will see her tonight, but she can’t take me down.

  4. says

    I feel the words of this post in my heart. I feel such a desire to share my story, to leave a legacy, even if just for my son, and especially after facing illness this year. And yet, I often feel like I’m failing to do so and that daily life is getting in the way. Thank you for reminding me that this “daily” life that is happening all around me IS the continuation of my story, and I better keep my eyes open or I’ll miss it.

  5. says

    Thank you for your words, Jeff, and for affirming and giving weight to the art and craft of writing. Your words inspired me, filled me with anticipation, and made me want to happily waste away the day writing. I’m so glad to have found your blog and can’t wait to dive in! There appears to be a wealth of incredible writing wisdom there… a treasure for sure!

  6. says

    What a thought provoking question. It certainly puts life into a much longer view type of perspective.
    It’s not about just writing a blog post, it’s about offering encouragement or ideas to help someone change and improve their life, and to have that joy impact someone else, etc, etc.
    The thought of the far reaching ripples we can start from our humble blogs takes on a whole new meaning!
    Love it!

  7. says

    You just inspired my next post Jeff. So good to see you here and even after just having a baby you continue to inspire tirelessly with your words. I think about this leaving a legacy all the time and I think what we leave behind will probably be the clumps of moments forgetten by us and remembered by those we touch with who we are. Thanks for this.

  8. says

    I just finished ‘On Writing’ and I really resonated with that quote about life not being a support system for your art. Living a good story will certainly manifest itself into what you create in positive way.

  9. says

    “If you want to create more beautiful are, live a better life.” – Well said Jeff! {And congrats to you and your wife on your little bundle of joy!}
    When we’re in step with God and we’re putting into the lives of others our spring tends to bubble a bit more. And, I think that’s what Jesus wants for us….to live the “abundant life.”

    Thanks for inviting Jeff to join us here Emily!

  10. says

    I realized recently that I was hiding behind the word “think.” I don’t “think” I want to do that… I do “think” I want to do this. As Christians it is important to be open-handed towards God’s path for our future. However, we can also use that as an excuse to not trudge forward. To avoid the risk of living our dream.

    Our biggest resistance comes from ourselves.

    Thanks for your encouragement to push past that, admit who we are, and live.

  11. says

    Gremlins. That’s what I call them! They are there to remind me that I have to choose to show up as me, someone who has a lot of responsibilities and distractions that label and sometimes even come to define me.

  12. says

    Can I just say how timely this article is !!! Emily, thank you for sharing your blog “space” which, by the way, is very life-giving to me on a regular basis and I really wanted to say that to YOU as well !!! Thank you to both of you writers! I’ve just begun writing a bit and I’m finding God is just confirming it over and over again. Emily, your writing, along with a couple of other key writers, has been such an inspiration to step out. Thank you again !

  13. says

    I think it was Winston Churchill who said, “The empires of the future are empires of the mind. Or as another of my favorite thinkers, King Solomom said, “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”

  14. says

    Wonderful! The last sentence in number 2 hit home..why in the world would I sabotage God’s purpose and let the enemy win? NO MORE! He planted art and writing inside of me and by golly I’m not going to let it go to waste. Thank you so much for your post.

  15. says

    What an exciting proclamation of inspiration to all of us. This sets my soul singing with encouragement. Your gifts bless again. Your clear, plain-spokem yet artful way of laying down the bread-crumbs for the heart to follow… to go and live richly, fully, abundantly. Isn’t that how He wants us to live. Amen, brother to your words here. And bless your journey into fatherhood.

  16. Lisa R says

    Wow, I love this post. Very appropro considering I have just started a blog about being real with my own writing. It’s hard to open your own heart, but to leave the legacy I want to leave, I’ve realized that it’s necessary. Thanks for sharing, and hope your little one is doing well.

  17. says

    Christina, #2 hit home for me too..

    Even though I’ve read Jeff’s book and deeply believe I’m supposed to tell my stories, I’m still heavily battling resistance.
    These communities help refocus me and save me from too much chocolate. 😉

  18. says

    Thank you so much for the way you generously share the gift and pour out encouragement. I am reading your book now and am deeply grateful for your words. I have always had the mistaken concept that art was something far too high for someone like me to aspire too. I am learning that it is indeed the out-flowing of the Father’s heart in us.

  19. says

    Thanks, Jeff. (and Emily). You are a blessing to me. Just bought eBook last night. I’ll be reading it as we drive to our vacation destination. My loving and supportive husband said, “Good for you” when I told him I’d bought it! Good for me!!
    Thank you both for changing my world with your passion.

  20. says

    Jeff–& Emily–Thanks to both of you for sharing this post. I’ve been wrestling with this whole writer thing for eons. Here’s what had happened right before I read your post.
    Coming home from the grocery, I’d seen a man sitting near the parking lot exit with a sign asking for help, so I hopped out of my car & gave him a few dollars. On the ride home, I couldn’t stop thinking about him, so I thought I’d fix him a “Care package”–water, ice, a soft drink, containers of yogurt, a few bananas, granola bars, and some other items, the whole time thinking I was probably a little crazy to do that.
    Then out of the blue, it occurred to me that maybe I could bring attention to his plight if I wrote about him. To me, this was a crazy idea b/c I am not a writer. (Keep in mind that although I started a blog, it is not active. I had no earthly idea what I was doing over a year ago when I started it & even accidentally made it be “live” before it was anywhere near ready. It’s still not ready. I am really a closet writer of sorts–& I spend a lot of time thinking about writing & jotting notes, but that’s where it stops.) So it seemed kind of bizarre to me that this idea even popped into my head.
    Anyway, I prayed as I drove back to the store, not wanting to offend the man & asking God to send me a sign if this was not something I was supposed to do. (I was also hoping not to be knocked in the head or abducted.) Well, no wrecks occurred, no angels swooped down blocking the road, so in a few minutes I found myself pulling up next to this stranger. I walked over and handed him the packages I’d prepared.
    Then it was as if I were possessed: I extended my hand, told him my first name, and actually spoke these words WHICH HAVE NEVER IN MY LIFE LEFT MY LIPS (though I have written them down–once–on a Post-It note): “I am a writer.” Yes, I actually said that–out loud–to a live human being!
    I added that I’d like to write about him in hopes it might help his situation, though I told him that I had no idea if the piece would appear anywhere–or ever. He declined, saying he preferred to keep a low profile. After had a very pleasant chat for 5-10 minutes, I got in my car and drove the short distance home. But the whole time I kept shaking my head over what I’d just done–NOT that I’d stopped and talked with a complete stranger like that but that I had actually said those four words to another human being!
    When I got home, I checked my e-mail, and there was this post. Oh, my! So I subscribed to your website, Jeff, ordered your book, & here I am. Thanks for the post–the reinforcement I needed on a rather extraordinary morning!

  21. says

    I hadn’t considered the label of “aspiring” or “wannabe” as sabotage. I convinced myself that such labels are “accurate” and “honest”. After reading your post I realize that is an excuse, another attempt to mask my fear. Sometimes the resistance is palpable. I actually circle my chair and allow the blank screen/page to intimidate me into not sitting down and writing. Thank you for this timely and thought-provoking post. Tough love I needed to hear. Congratulations on the new little one in your life.

  22. says

    This was so timely for me. I’m presently in a slump of my own making. Self-sabotage seems to come naturally for me. Between your blog and the blog of our mutual friend, Joe Bunting, I’m getting hit from all sides with some great words of wisdom. Quite humbling to be receiving them from such young dudes, but very grateful none-the-less. Keep up the great work!

  23. says

    What a beautiful post. What artist (or writer) wouldn’t want people hundreds of years later to view their art and think, “I wonder what legacy I’ll leave.” I can’t think of a better question to inspire.

    I also really enjoyed that SKing quote. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *