I'm an American expat, writer. photographer. and old-fashioned romantic in love with celebrating the simple joys of daily life. I appreciate timelessness, the natural world, and a slow life lived with simplicity and intention. When I'm not photographing families or  slowly traveling the world and writing about it in a little notebook, I'm happily grounding myself in nature and cozying up with my sweet husband.

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You don’t need to leave behind a legacy.

Is it just me or are a lot of influencers and entrepreneurs on the internet these days talking about the importance of leaving behind a legacy?

It’s often shared as “how can I leave the greatest impact on the world” and “what can I do each day to bring me closer to leaving behind a legacy?” 

Life coaches bring up the “obituary exercise” where you imagine or hope people would say about you at your funeral. The self-help section at the bookstore is flooded with concepts to leaving behind something for the future.

It seems as if there is this desperate need to build something today that will outlive you long after you’re gone. 

What even is a legacy?

Many people believe that a legacy is fulfilling your God-given human potential to the fullest. Enough so that people will remember you when you’re gone.

Maybe leaving behind a legacy is as simple as sharing your story in long captions on Instagram or Facebook. Maybe it’s deciding to have children for the sole reason being of leaving behind something to love you and remember you. Or maybe you have big, ambitious dreams because you are motivated and driven by the need to leave something behind. 

Perhaps people think that leaving behind a legacy comes down to 3 things:

  1. Having a career or achieve public recognition for talent or skill

  2. Being financially independent 

  3. Being recorded in history or published (history, science, literature, technology, politics etc)

But here’s the thing: checking off boxes will never lead to true happiness.

Materialism doesn’t lead to inner fulfillment. Actual joy stems from within – in the present moment.

And thinking about the legacy you want to leave behind in the future is distracting you from the now. 

girl hiking in the vosges mountains  

Fulfilling Your Human Potential 

First we need to ask ourselves: what potential do we TRULY have on Earth? People move on. Life moves on. Planet Earth will eventually move on. And having this zoomed out, birds-eye perspective is really helpful in beginning our journey of letting go of this need to leave behind a legacy.

Second – what defines fulfilling your unique human potential? 

Is it making more money or having the latest gadgets? Is it churning out free weekly content in hopes to inspire or motivate others? Is it to acquire fame and recognition? Is it having financial stability and a cozy routine so you can arrive home in time each evening to have dinner at the table with your family? We first have to be honest with ourselves.

Chase Values – Not Things

Fulfilling the honest desires of your soul comes from values, and these look different for everybody! 

Be honest with yourself, my friend. It’s so important not to shy away from or be embarrassed by your soul’s honest desires. Own it! If you have big dreams and mighty aspirations, follow those big dreams because they are there for a reason. But if you are someone who places value in having less and following a slower lifestyle, that’s wonderful too. 

Having a simpler life that is more aligned with your inner values is nobler than manic, insecure over-achieving. 

Because here’s the thing: fulfillment is subjective. Success is personal.

What is fulfilling to me may not be enough for you. For many creative entrepreneurs and artists in my industry, running a “6 figure empire” is a dream career that many aspire towards. To me, that’s a complete nightmare. I dream of less – of more leisure time, a deeper relationship with spirit and my partner. I am on a personal quest for spiritual wisdom and truth. That is what I place value in. 

And I cheer those alongside me who are going after their own, personalized values. I celebrate anyone who is staying true to themselves. 

It’s when we stray away from ourselves and start chasing shiny pennies that we’ve forgotten what really matters. It is when we stop maintaining integrity with our soul that we’ve failed. 

I believe this need to leave behind a legacy is deeply rooted in the innate fear in all humans: a fear of death. I’m not foolish enough to say I fully understand why people are afraid of death and transitioning to the non-physical. But I do have a guess or two.

A fear of death may possibly come from a fear of feeling insignificant to the world. It’s very natural for humans to want to feel important and significant, to find meaning and truth… within themselves and the world.

But there is nothing wrong with living each day fully and taking pleasure in the small minutia – the simple joys! It’s perfectly okay to be forgotten, to not be remembered. In fact, this idea could act as a powerful motivator to live your life fully for you today – not for others far into the future. 

You will most likely not be remembered long after you and your grandchildren are gone….and that’s okay. 

If this idea is triggering to you, ask yourself: am I afraid of not being enough? Of not having done everything during my time here? Am I afraid of being forgotten?

My Personal Journey with Fear and Needing to Leaving Behind a Legacy

This idea of needing to leave behind a legacy is something I’ve contemplated and grappled with a lot in my own life. As an ambitious child, I desperately feared death and not being remembered by others. I used to lament my fears of death to my mom on car rides to the theater, expressing my ambitious urge to be remembered in books and original broadway soundtracks. As I’ve grown older and let go of former identities, I sought after wisdom beyond myself and my own mind. I’ve realized that those desires stemmed from fear. Fear of not being accepted by others, fear of not being loved by others and a fear of being forgotten and insignificant.

For the past three years and after a lot of soul-searching, I’ve realized that I am someone who is very fulfilled and content with a humble life. I could die tomorrow and feel so content, satisfied, and fulfilled with the time I’ve had and the life I’ve lived.

Someday I will delete all of these blog posts and youtube videos, burn all of my journals and photographs. My family and loved ones will eventually pass after me. Someday there may even be a new Earth! We will be gone.

And accepting this is a gateway, a portal, to have inner peace and present joy…right here, right now. 

Our future – our legacy – doesn’t matter. It’s a blip.

Our life will flash by so quickly. So, how can you enjoy the time – today?

 

You Don’t Need to Leave Behind a Legacy

July 19, 2020

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I'm Helena! As a creative storyteller, I document magical, emotionally honest family and children's portraiture. A lover of childhood, fairytales and natural light, I photograph families across the world. I'm the ultimate Disney nerd, and I'm obsessed with cats and expressing my love for the simple joys of slow, daily life.

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Helena Woods is a destination newborn and family photographer based in France and New England and travels worldwide. She is known for her natural light, modern classic, and emotive photography style.

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