The Real Reason Why You Should Focus on Leaving a Legacy

The Real Reason Why You Should Leave a Legacy2There comes a time in your life when you start thinking about what you will leave behind after you die. What will be your legacy? How will you be recorded into the annals of history?

“Enlightened” people will tell you to that it’s a pipe dream. That it’s a devious scheme devised by your ego to overcompensate for a purposeless life. Is it so?

Evolutionary Reasons Why You Should Leave a Legacy

In a hundred years from now
Everyone who’s living on this planet will be dead
So it’s inconsequential really
All the shit that you talk
All the bullshit that you stand for
It’s more important what, what you’re ready to build
What you’re ready to pass down to your children
What you’re ready to create
You better fuckin’ remember that
When you challenge a motherfucker like me
Remember, I’m the dominant species

–Immortal Technique

(This is the intro of a song called Dominant Species. I listen to this often in the gym to link it with powerful emotions.)

The notion of wanting to leave behind something that is greater than you when you die is a very alluring.

Many people buy into it for the “wrong” – inaccurate – reasons. They buy into it because it sounds cool. And it does sound very cool. Who wouldn’t want to create something that stands the test of time?

But, those people don’t consider why it might be a good/bad idea to think about leaving behind a legacy.

Let’s look into some common information on the topic.

A lot of people speak of the importance of creating something of your own:

–They speak of finding an original way to produce value and building a long-lasting business based on it.

–They speak of gaining muscle and crafting the body to reflect one’s inner strength.

–They speak of creating art that will forever communicate to people on a universal level.

In short, they speak of leaving behind a legacy that goes beyond the present moment.

There are many people who are attracted to this philosophy. Especially men.

Why?

Simple, because it’s in our DNA.

Show me a man who’s not focused on any of these three things and I’ll show you a thoroughly unhappy and confused man.

Such a man goes against the genetic wisdom built into his body through millions of years of trial and error. Genetic wisdom achieved through a process of evolutionary trial and error where the ultimate arbiter of “right” and “wrong” has been death. Not reprimands from society, authorities, or peer pressure, but death.

A man who obeys man-made rules imposed on him by someone else but neglects the wisdom of his DNA is a fool. After all, those rules were most likely created for the purpose of giving power to its creators over other men.

Societal rules are arbitrary, they come and go. This year it’s acceptable to do so-and-so, the next year it’s not.

Genetic rules are not like that.

Is it then strange that such a man will suffer greatly throughout his life?

Why You Shouldn’t Focus on Leaving a Legacy

The following quote by Marcus Aurelius sums up why you shouldn’t:

Throwing away then all things, hold to these only which are few; and besides bear in mind that every man lives only this present time, which is an indivisible point, and that all the rest of his life is either past or it is uncertain. Short then is the time which every man lives, and small the nook of the earth where he lives; and short too the longest posthumous fame, and even this only continued by a succession of poor human beings, who will very soon die, and who know not even themselves, much less him who died long ago.

— Marcus Aurelius

Many other people have said similar things. The logic goes something like:

“You have one life. Don’t waste it deferring happiness. Don’t postpone living. Don’t seek to impress others. Just live and enjoy your life.”

That statement is hard to argue with or refute, because it’s too general.

But, if we deconstruct that statement piece by piece and make it more specific, we find that:

“You have one life.

–Most likely. I can’t prove otherwise.

“Don’t waste it deferring happiness.”

— Define happiness.

I define happiness as the state in which you experience an abundance of positive hormones and neurotransmitters. How this state is achieved is arbitrary and different between people.

In my experience, when people who preach that others should “live now and not put off happiness” what they call “happiness  is what I call instant gratification. And, as a general principle, delaying instant gratification is actually preferable to engaging in too much instant gratification.

Why?

Because delaying gratification will build discipline, keep you sharp, and allow you to enjoy life more.

How?

By making sure that you avoid raising your threshold for stimulation excessively. (This makes your brain require less external stimulation to feel “happy”.) Meditation is a good example.

What does that mean?

That you shouldn’t mess up your brain – E.G your dopaminergic pathways – by engaging in frequent:

If you do these things excessively, especially the multitasking, you’ll be. . .

. . . Actually, you’ll be normal. And that’s the scary thing!

Seriously though, you’ll find it a lot harder to concentrate because your miserable brain is always craving stimulation and doesn’t want to do just one thing at a time. For a person with a brain in this condition meditation is torture.

The punchline:

By focusing on a goal and delaying instant gratification your brain will start producing dopamine, which in turn makes you feel strong, curious, and focused. How strongly you experience the reward of delaying gratification depends on a number of things.

We have now — already — squashed the generalized argument that we started with.

But let’s kick the corpse of that argument around a bit more, for amusement.

“Don’t try to impress others.”

–True, it’s usually a waste of time. But the error in this argument is the assumption that wanting to leave a legacy is only for show. That it’s something you do to impress other people or make up for some insecurities you may have.

It doesn’t strike the person making the argument that you’d want to leave a legacy for your own sake — simply because there’s nothing more brilliant that you can think of accomplishing with your life.

Now let’s put the nail in the coffin.

“Just live and enjoy your life…”

–Again, it’s a matter of definition. Different people enjoy different things.

To “just live your life” is easier said than done.

Intelligent people can’t turn off their brains and “just live”.

There are only two types of people who can do that: stupid people and skilled meditators. And while I would consider myself a skilled meditator, I’ve got more important things to do than to sit around in “bliss” all day.

I have “just lived my life”.

I’ve done YES-man challenges. I’ve made decisions by rolling a dice and by flipping a coin. I’ve done spontaneous and crazy things. I know from experience that it puts you into a temporary adventure mode. And I do think it’s good practice for the PFC to engage in from time to time, because it breaks you out of your regular routine.

But, I don’t think it’s a smart thing to do for extended periods of time. When I’ve done it, I’ve quickly felt aimless, empty, and bored. I’ve felt like I’m wasting my potential on trivial and non-productive tasks.

Of course, there’s no point in telling stupid people that. They will just say:

Duuude, don’t think so much. Just, like, enjoy life, you know what I’m sayin’?

But I disagree. The unexamined life isn’t worth living.

An active brain will keep inquiring until there are no more questions to be answered.

The superior man thrives by thinking. Not by dumbing himself down through excessive stimulation and lowering the capacity of his foremost tool — his brain.

That Means You Should Focus on Leaving a Legacy

You should:

  • Think about leaving a legacy of greatness. What will you build? What will you contribute? Who will prosper from it? The more you think about your legacy, and the more mental energy you devote to its creation, the more detailed your vision is, the more motivation you will be able to draw from it.
  • Delay gratification.  Because it will increase your dopamine levels and make you feel better. The more you do it and the stronger your willpower becomes. It’s like a muscle. Go on a 2-day fast.
  • Live as if you were to live for several hundred years. Plan ahead. Don’t let time become a mental restriction or impediment to formulating important long-term plans. Because you may actually live to be several hundred years old given the advances of science. But probably only the richest people will be able to afford it.

Motivation is a scarce resource of immense value. Therefore, as a pragmatic person, you should focus on leaving your legacy.  You should use it as a mental tool. It will eventually become like an engine from which you can refuel motivation.

Will you focus on leaving a legacy?

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Comments

  1. Wow. Hello, I’m a first time reader, commenter on this age-old post. A college student, I see the points that you’ve made new about the topic of leaving a legacy and that was really thought-provoking. That hasn’t happened in a long time. Thank you. Can I cite your ideas in a presentation soon?

  2. Damn, you beat me to what I was going to say. When I started reading this, I already had some thoughts on Marcus Aurelius floating in my head since this is stuff that he talked about a lot in Meditations. But you talked extensively about his thoughts on the subject.

    I love Meditations, but I thought his continuous arguments over not leaving a legacy was a little off. I’ve always taken the other viewpoint. We should be trying to leave a legacy. Yes, it’s true that no one lives forever and that everything we do will eventually fade away. But so what? All we have is the time we have – I’m making memories right now.

    This post reminds me a little of absurdist arguments. Take Albert Camus for instance. In the Myth of Sisyphus, he said that all life is absurd. It serves no purpose at all and trying to find the meaning of life is pointless. Yet at the same time, he argues that you can still find personal meaning – one that fulfills your needs to a meaningful life. Instead of seeing life as empty and not something worthwhile, we should all be doing everything we can to make them great – I think that’s my personal meaning I’ve found in life.

    • Steve,

      Great minds think alike, eh?

      If you write a post about it, please tell me about it. I’d love to read.

      “I love Meditations, but I thought his continuous arguments over not leaving a legacy was a little off.”

      — Exactly my opinion.

      Regarding the Tale of Sisyphus & making things meaningful: I think it all has to do with mental focus/concentration. Or what some people refer to as presence.

  3. Great post!

    I agree with you on every point. Leaving a legacy is fundamental to pretty much every living organism from the single-celled variety to us. It’s true that only humans are complex enough to speculate on different ways to fulfil this urge (whereas every other creature seeks it through reproduction), but it’s still the same urge. If you’re alive, you want to leave something of yourself behind when you die – it’s nature’s oldest game.

    My main weakness when it comes to achieving the goals I’m interested in is multi-tasking. Which is frustrating as the ability to remain singularly focused on one aim used to be one of my biggest strengths. I think the older we get, and the more our responsibilities multiply and change, the more necessary it is to become intentional about feeding our strengths. They tend to be the part of ourselves we take most for granted, and so the part most susceptible to neglect when new pressures and challenges arrive.

    Learning to maintain focus, remain disciplined, avoid complacency and keep upskilling (keep seeking to grow and evolve), contribute massively to whether we’re able to leave a legacy, and thereby live a satisfying life.

    Easier said than done, of course. But then that’s why we read blogs like this one. ;-)

    • Micah thanks for the insightful comment!

      What you’re saying about multitasking is interesting. I think the problem for most people growing up nowadays is inherent in the use of smartphones, Youtubing, computers, music, videogames, etc… Growing up constantly plugged into stimulation, and seeing everyone else doing the same thing — making it seem normal.

      So it’s refreshing to hear you provide a different explanation: ” I think the older we get, and the more our responsibilities multiply and change, the more necessary it is to become intentional about feeding our strengths”

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