Creating A Legacy In The Community And In Business

“History will be kind to me because I intend to write it.” ~Unknown

What do you want your legacy to be? Never thought about it before? Women today are far busier than our grandmothers or even our mothers ever were. From being a mother to wife to student to now being an entrepreneur, our legacy – that which you will leave behind you – is in jeopardy. That fact of the matter is that when it comes to talking about legacy, women hesitate because it seems too self-centered. But I argue that we, as women of today, need to start preparing and designing our own legacy. It is not a matter of self-centeredness, but of creating a roadmap or blueprint for future generations

What is a legacy?

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a legacy is “A gift left in a will or a thing handed down by a predecessor.” It can give and be created while you are still alive. It can also be public or private (we’ll talk about this more later). In other words, it is not for the rich only – a very common myth that no one talks about, especially women.

So, what is it that you want to leave behind for those you love when you pass? A legacy of obesity? A legacy of drug abuse? Or a legacy of service to others? I remember my mother once slamming her car into a tree because she fell asleep at the wheel while driving home from her third job. She survived, thankfully, but for many people, this is their life’s story and it does not often end with a happy ending. My mother has given me a legacy of hard work, dedication, tenacity, integrity and the importance of education.

Leadership, Purpose and Vision: A roadmap to building your legacy

When it comes right down to it, building a legacy is about being a leader. Leadership is positive behavior and/or influence on the community and/or family (this is a personal choice that can impact your legacy). Therefore, before you can build your legacy, you must know your purpose. How do you know what it is?

First, you must be open to it – listen to other’s ideas about what they see you as being good at. For example, if people are always saying to you “Girl, you make the meanest chocolate chip macaroon cookies! You should sell these,” they are confirming something the universe has been trying to tell you all along. Women, especially, tend to fend off these compliments by downplaying it: “Oh! This is nothing.” Don’t do that! You are essentially telling the universe (God, for some) that it/He made a mistake.

Your purpose can also come through tragedy: Average Girl was created in response to the murder of my cousin (a victim of domestic violence, she left behind 7 children). My writing experience prepared me for this in that I learned how to write and tell a good story as an English major and now teacher of literature and composition. When it came time to put together the editorial content and style of Average Girl, I was ready for it. Therefore, your purpose is directly related to what kind of legacy you want to leave behind for your business or family/community.

More important than you could ever imagine is Vision; how do you define it and get others to follow it? Tell your story when given the chance; how does it relate to your purpose? You will talk about it if you believe in it. Sadly, women tend to second guess their products/services and themselves. For example, I used to tell myself that ‘no one would buy my magazine because it didn’t look like other magazines on the newsstands and I was “a nobody.” No one knew my name and I had no money to bring to the table.’ It took years of encouraging self-talk (and the loss of a lot of potential sales) to downplay that horrible tape playing around in my head every time I tried to bring to life my vision.

Your vision must connect or resonate with others. We, as women, share a common bond: being a woman. I use this to speak about and promote Average Girl. We may come from different ethnicities or socioeconomic backgrounds, but we all experience joy, pain and heartache as women. We all have dreams that are sometimes crushed or deferred because of society’s pressure to make us conform to its standards of femininity (i.e., housewife, wife, and businesswoman).

You must also have a workable plan – this is where you need to spend a lot of time in development once you have hashed out clearly your willingness to be a leader and follow your purpose. You can’t ask people to follow you or to invest in your vision if you have no idea what it is or how it works, looks, smells, taste, etc. As a leader, you are responsible for not only your word and actions, but the well-being of others.

How can networking help to establish a legacy?

Networking is about building relationships, so you must select networking events that you are truly interested in attending and are in line with your business objectives/market. Time is money and once it’s gone, you cannot get it back. So, do some research first before attending any networking events. When you get there, talk to people about their business; ask them how can you be of service to them? Don’t just stand in a dark corner and cower or worse, stick to the click. Engage people. Be an active listener as it is not always about you and you only.

Use your gut instinct when choosing people to talk to people at these networking events. Truth be told, some people are just there to make money and will use whomever they can to do it: women are good with their instincts, so listen to your gut. Also understand that you cannot help everyone and everyone cannot help you – that’s why referrals are VERY important to not only your business, but in creating a legacy – but be careful about referring the wrong people. If someone has not paid you for your services, do not refer them to another business they could stiff. It will look bad on you, not them. Use those instincts!

Most people forget this vital part of networking: the follow up. Follow up the connections made at these networking meetings with lunch or breakfast or tea just to chat. While there, share your story here if asked to – don’t go into a diatribe: keep it short, sweet, simple and to the point. Discuss your products/services (don’t second guess their response) – you are building connections. Follow up this meeting with frequent communications via email or phone. This is simply confirming connections and building a strong network.

Once people know who you are and what you are about, they will remember you when they hear things “in the wind.” For example, when I was an executive assistant, I used to tell my co-workers that I was studying to be an English teacher. One of them heard about a teaching job expo and told me about it. I went and was hired on the spot. So began my career in education and eventually the birth of Average Girl Magazine.

Forging Business and Community Alliances

Work with people who are doing what you are doing, but perhaps with a different angle. Sponsor an event for a potential alliance to introduce their company to the community. This shows that you are willing and able to work with others. You can also host an event to introduce your company and your goals for the community. For example, I host a tea party every December for Average Girl, but I always donate proceeds from the silent auction to a local woman’s charity or non-profit. I announce this on all of the flyers and marketing material – message: not everything is about just my business. Invite some of your local competitors to be your guest.

If you are thinking about forging an alliance with an organization, research the company first before preparing to establish an alliance. Make an appointment to speak with key persons/decision makers. Before you go, however, prepare an informal plan of action – again, this is a chance to tell your story. At the meeting, establish how you can be of service to them and visa versa (ask questions to establish this further). Perhaps you could offer services such as, free products, time, space, PR, etc. Whatever you offer, do not let it severely impact your bottom line. This is about building alliances wisely that will benefit both businesses’ bottom line in the long run.

Market your business or persons as a community centered entity. Begin to establish yourself as having integrity, flexibility and service. Here is where private vs. publish exposure comes into play. Whatever you release to the media, make sure it is what you want released and that all parties mentioned are in agreement. Some things you may not want the public to know because you just wanted to do it (be aware of your motives). Sources of media to release information to if you choose to go public include: books, website, articles, public speaking engagements, e-newsletters, public service announcements (PSAs). In the end, your reputation will slowly begin to build as your alliances become solid and fruitful. Remember, people remember good deeds and spread the word – but they also remember bad deeds and spread the word.

How can community involvement add to the bottom line of your business?

It can, but is this your ultimate goal? Getting your business involved in community activities/activism is a move that should be carefully considered. It can bring more loyal customers/clients to your business. The company can grow financially and in size due to exposure increase. Your reputation for integrity, loyalty, vision will attract all of the above as well. But beware! People can smell greed and selfishness…and that can ruin more than just your bottom line.

Ultimately, we are here to serve others – if we keep this in focus, your business and/or personal life will prosper for it and your legacy will be the benchmark for others to emulate and prosper from. Remember! Your gifts/talent = purpose = vision = services = legacy = connection to God (or Higher Power).

So what do you want your legacy to be for yourself and your business? Write it down: make it plain, according to scripture. That’s the first thing. The rest is up to you.

Leaving a Lasting Legacy

Does promise and potential guarantee a lasting legacy? I am a huge sports fan. In the sports world, there are certain athletes that come to mind whenever the topic of wasted potential comes up. These individuals had stellar college careers, show great promise and potential to succeed, but fall short and leave the wrong type of legacy. One tragic example that comes to mind is that of Len Bias.

Len Bias was considered one of the greatest college basketball players of the modern era. He was named Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the year in 1985 and 1986. Whenever a discussion is started about the greatest players ever to play at the University of Maryland and in the Atlantic Coast Conference, his name always comes up. He was the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, a team that had just won the NBA championship. Three days after being drafted, Len spent a night partying with friends and snorting cocaine in his University of Maryland dorm room. The cocaine caused him to go into cardiac arrest and he died shortly afterwards. The Len Bias story teaches us that promise and potential does NOT guarantee a lasting legacy.

The founders of The Omega Psi Phi Fraternity have left us a lasting legacy. As we celebrate One Hundred Years of existence and excellence, the question becomes how do we leave a lasting legacy? I believe that there are three key elements that we must have to accomplish this.

The first element that is necessary for a lasting legacy is the Right Connection. The right connection is a connection with God. Our founders were deeply religious men who had a strong connection with God. Bishop Edgar A Love was a Methodist Bishop who presided over four churches during his career. It is that strong connection that allowed our founders to leave behind the legacy of this great fraternity. Proverbs 3:5 instructs us to “trust in the Lord with all of our hearts, lean not on our own understanding, in all of our ways to acknowledge Him and he shall direct our paths.” When we allow God to direct our paths we are sure to leave a lasting legacy. If we fail to connect ourselves with God, we are guaranteed to come short of our promise, purpose, and potential. The most critical step in connecting with God is accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior. The next step is to develop a consistent prayer life and have a regular fellowship with a local church.

The second element needed is The Right Company. To bring this point home I will quote to a famous person named Gwendolyn C Twiggs: “Birds of a Feather Flock together!” As I grew older, I was saddened to discover that my mother was not the original author of this profound statement. I also discovered that this statement is true, and that understanding it is critical for success in life. We must be careful to surround ourselves with individuals that have the results in their lives that we want. Proverbs 13:20 teaches us the following: “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” The right company will hold us accountable to staying on the right path. The right company doesn’t always tell us what we want to hear, but they will tell us what we NEED to hear. The right company brings out the best in us. Our founders gave us an excellent example of this. Oscar James Cooper, Edgar A. Love, and Frank Coleman were known as the Three Musketeers when they were on Howard University’s campus. When you saw one, you were likely to see the other two. These three men, along with Professor Ernest Everett Just, were men of like ideals and like attainment. Our fraternity exists today as a result of our founders keeping the right company. It is possible that the Len bias story may have had a different ending if he had different company around him.

The Third and final element that is needed is the Right Commitment. The commitment that I am referring to is a commitment to service. We have a lot of brothers who are standing on the sidelines. Lasting legacies are never birthed on the sidelines. Lasting legacies are birthed in service when we roll up our sleeves and get to work. One of the familiar Hymns of the Baptist Church is “Standing on the Promises.” I am afraid that some of us get that confused with “Sitting on the Premises.” The ultimate model of a servant is Jesus Christ. The Bible declares that He sacrificed Himself and put the needs of humanity ahead of His own. The world is different today because of His service. The true measure of any servant is that their arena is different because of their presence. If we are an effective servant, our fraternity should be different because of our initiative. The committee’s we serve on should be different because of our input. Our churches should be different because of our impact. Our communities should be different because of our involvement. If the arenas we operate in are the exact same as before we got there, we need to question our commitment to service.

To summarize, if we plan on leaving a lasting legacy, we need the Right Connection, the Right Company, and the Right Commitment.

My Legacy Will Be Picking Up Where Those Before Me Left Off

If you think about your family history as far back as you have knowledge of it, you are getting a view of what legacy is all about. From your most distant relative to your own parents, every individual in each generation has passed many things down to you. When you use these nuggets of wisdom appropriately, you are setting the stage to pass your ancestors’ amazing legacy down to the generations who will follow you in decades to come.

One part of legacy is the characteristics and attributes which you have inherited from your ancestors. Your ancestors may have come to the United States from a different country, bringing with them such values as a strong family unit, dedication to hard work, and the desire to turn dreams into the reality of success. They have passed these values on to your grandparents, your parents, and you, even if you never had the opportunity to meet any of them in person.

Living this legacy and passing it along to the next generation is not an old-fashioned concept. In fact, when you pick up where those before you left off, you are honoring their sacrifices, acknowledging the good that they did during their lifetimes, and deeming it all valuable enough to make it a part of your own life in the present day. When you do this, your own children and grandchildren will inherit this gift from you, just as you have inherited it from those who lived before you.

A second part of their legacy consists of the traditions and customs which were an integral part of their lives. These traditions and customs may have been related to the culture of your ancestors, the religion they practiced, or special traditions and customs made up within the family. When you practice their traditions in your own life, you are demonstrating how meaningful their traditions are to you; passing them on to younger family members or your own children in the future, will keep your ancestors’ legacy alive.

You can look at legacy as a very distinctive kind of keep sake. Although you cannot hold it in your hand or place it in your home for display, it is something to treasure. Unlike heirlooms which can become broken, damaged, or lost, the heirloom of your legacy will continue to be as strong and beautiful as it was for your grandparents, as long as you keep it this way. While photographs and other mementos may not withstand the test of time, your legacy can. If you realize how much it meant to those who came before you, and acknowledge that it continues to hold such deep meaning for you today, you are not only honoring your ancestors, but making your own life more meaningful at the same time.

In the future, when there is a new generation to pass this legacy to, they will surely appreciate and cherish it as much as you do today. Legacy helps you to be one strong link in the chain of the generations.