Today’s topic is both important to us as human beings, and has another layer to creatives. I’m talking about our urge to leave our mark on the world: to change or impact life in a meaningful way. This urge can drive and motivate us, or cripple us with fear, self judgement and anxiety. There are several key times in life where we may be especially tuned in to and evaluating our sense of personal and creative legacy. This is where I want to tune our focus today.
In early childhood during the beginnings of the growth of our self esteem, again in young adulthood as this sense of self experiences another surge of growth, again in mid life (the ever-famous “mid life crisis”) and finally in our golden years: these are the predicted times during which our thoughts about our legacies pique. If you find yourself currently in one of these stages, you can expect this to be on your mind. If you aren’t but weren’t satisfied with your development and answers to legacy issues in previous landmark stages, you may chronically carry worries about your legacy with you. Creative people are additionally especially prone to the weight of unanswered legacy questions and the need for impact.
Part of the reason creative people are especially prone, is part of our personality. We crave sharing our unique vision with those around us, and want it to impact them in the way it has impacted us. We want our talent recognized and validated en masse. It is certainly normal to crave that. Creative arts are also inherently competitive- and as such we arrange ourselves in “best-worst” structures. The result is we only allow ourselves to embrace and own our creative identities if we are the “most” creative and impactful, as evidenced by our legacies (not good.)
The idea of a legacy is certainly important: it gives meaning to what we do and drives us to create- even inspires us. But- legacy- as we typically know it- is a fallacy. I want to introduce to you the concept of “big L” vs “little l” legacy:
Big L Legacy represents what we normally think when we to reference significant creative impact. Big L legacies are those that history has remembered, text books reference, and others revere, imitate and immortalize. The size of Big L Legacy is global.
Little l legacy represents how we impact those we interact with personally. These are our individual, humanistic, organismic, direct, person-to-person, emotional interpersonal interactions. It extends to the community directly around us who know and experience us intimately.
I think the problem here is clear: we are holding ourselves to big L Legacy and disregarding little l legacy. The problem is that big L Legacy is not decided by us. It is really decided by zeitgeist (unfamiliar with that concept? Do a little side research- it’s awesome). In other words, there were more than one DaVinci, Beethoven, or Einstein. The reason those that we revere with big L Legacies got that name, as opposed to the others of equal standing, is a variety of time/place/person specific variables that the individual that got lucky on the Legacy score could not control. Maybe I will dedicate a future post just to looking at creative zeitgeist. I submit to you- that since Legacy is decided by others- usually strangers- for us- that it is less valuable and certainly unhealthy to chase. It is truly moot, in a way.
Little legacy is where I want you to redirect your urge to make an impact. The most important value we have is to those who know us intimately. On a personal level, our close friends, family and neighbors are those who are directly impacted by and therefore valuable in our lives- us to their lives and their lives to ours. Creatively, we may not be the most amazing global artist (which is also subjective and arguable what that even means), but we are the person at the place who shared what another person or group of people needed. You may want to dismiss this idea as “ok, sure, we all get trophies” mentality- this is not what I’m saying. I’m saying you are an important and necessary part of the fabric of your interpersonal and creative community. Your investment and time spent with the world directly around you leaves the mightiest impact you can possibly make.
I understand this concept is counterintuitive and so I challenge you to challenge it. Do a little experiment or series of experiments. Spend more time on a relationship, in a local creative event or in your community. Watch how quickly and positively others around you respond. How grateful they are. How quickly you are integrated. How you begin to feel about yourself.
After all, how many “great” creative people are on your own list of the most influential people in your life? How many people on that list are those that took the time to be present in your life, and that you spent precious minutes of your life with in return?
Are you plagued by personal legacy fears and questions? Are you at one of the legacy milestones? Do you want to resolve one that has passed? I am here to help.
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
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is a Creativity Coach, Creativity Counselor and Professional Artist in Sykesville, Maryland. She provides Online Creativity Counseling in Maryland and Virginia, and Online Creativity Coaching throughout the USA, Canada and the UK.
The information provided in this blog is from my own clinical experiences and training. It is intended to supplement your clinical care. Never make major life changes before consulting with your treatment team. If you are unsure of your safety or wellbeing, do not hesitate to get help immediately.