There is a Jack Benny routine where a mugger pointed a gun at Jack and said, "Your money or your life." Jack hesitates. The mugger said, "Look bud, I said your money or your life." Jack turns to the mugger and said, "I'm thinking it over."
This scenario is very funny because it is so ridiculous. We all understand our lives are far more important than our money. Yet, when we consider our legacy to our children, grandchildren and the world, our focus often shifts away from our lives, our values and how we make a positive difference in the world to a discussion about passing our money onto future generations.
Our legacy is not about our money; it is about the lasting impact we make on the people we love and the world around us. Ernest Becker said it best:
What man really fears is not so much extinction, but extinction with insignificance. Man wants to know that his life has somehow counted... that it has left a trace, a trace that has meaning. And in order for anything once alive to have meaning, its effects must remain alive in eternity in some way.
We want to leave behind a trace that has meaning. That doesn't mean that 150 years from now people will remember your name. The truth is they probably won't. Your great-great-grandparents probably died about 150 years ago. How many of their first names can you recall?
You may not recall their names, but you may be living their legacy. My family has a long history of entrepreneurship. My father, uncles and grandfathers were all entrepreneurs. I was told as a teenager that it is less risky to work for yourself than to work for someone else. I was told to take business risks while you are young; if it doesn't work out, you have plenty of time to try again.
Their legacy inspired me to create my first entrepreneurial endeavor. I started my own window washing business in high school. When we were 34 and 31, my brother and I started GV financial advisors. Working together and with our colleagues, we have built a company that allows us to each use our signature talents while making a meaningful difference in the lives of our clients and colleagues.
My children are 26 and 24. I don't know if either of them will be entrepreneurs. I do hope I have shown them the benefits of taking some risks while you are young, and of building a company that allows you to do what you love.
Maybe more importantly, I want to leave my children a legacy of confidence and values. I want them to understand that they have the ability to overcome any adversity the future may hold. I want to share with them our family values of working hard, being kind, having a generous heart and contributing to the community.
I hope that my children will pass on our family values to my grandchildren who hopefully will pass it on to my great-grandchildren. I don't expect my great-grandchildren to remember my name. I do hope they understand the value of being an entrepreneur and living by our family values.
I want my legacy to include leaving the world a better place than I found it. My wife and I have always believed in the value of a quality education and in the power of community. We give our time, talents and money to a local charity that provides interest-free loans to kids struggling to pay for college. Our hope is the college experience will expose these kids to opportunities to meet new people, learn new ideas and pursue careers that will be both financially and personally rewarding.
My wife and I don't expect these young adults to remember our names. We do hope their lives will be better because of their college education, and we do hope that if they are able, they will support the community and give generously to the next generation of struggling college students.
You can choose what type of legacy you want to leave. Do you want your legacy to be about your money or your life?