What Will You Leave Behind?


“…I am pleased with my body of work so far.” Leonard Nimoy, Cambridge, UK, book signing “I am Spock”

What is a body of work and why should all of us be thinking in these terms?


I went to listen to Leonard Nimoy speak at his book signing for “I am Spock” in 1995. He spoke upon his years as Spock, his subsequent career and his interest in photography. But I found the most interesting segment was his philosophy on his “body of work”.

It was perhaps something of a digression from what his fans came to hear; however, he conveyed that he was pleased with the finished labors he would leave behind: his acting, books and his photography.

Personally, this sent my mind down a similar track. What would I leave behind when I left this existence and would there be any virtue in that “gift” to enrich the future of humanity? And this thought ran into other questions.

—-Is it important that we as individual humans leave something behind after we are gone, something inspirational and tangible?

—-What if it’s not just important but a moral imperative, a responsibility to leave humanity that much better off because of our life?

—-If so, what should we leave behind? Can it be anything? Children? Photographs? Service history? Art? Books?

Perhaps at this point the word “legacy” comes to mind. But a legacy is not necessarily the result of a thoughtful plan to “pay it forward” to subsequent generations. Shouldn’t this body of work, this gift of self, be a thoughtful considered plan to better human existence over time?

Couldn’t an argument be offered that any action that positively affected change in the wellbeing of another, even an incremental change, be offered as paying it forward?

I think that reasonable, but is it inspirational? And for that matter, is it an enduring substantive gift that will enrich not just a fellow human but multiple humans to come?


So, what if it is in fact a moral imperative to pay it forward? What constitutes a substantive gift?

One could become a physician and heal hundreds of people over a life time. But beyond the humans that this physician kept healthy and therefore their subsequent generations, the impact of this physicians gift is limited in time and space.

What can we leave behind that reaches out to multiple generations, especially after we are gone?


Arguably, Shakespeare has had the most enriching, pronounced and far reaching effect on subsequent humanity than any other artist. For over five hundred years the spring of his creativity has made a difference to literally millions of his fellow humans. The power of his original thought lives on.

What is uniquely you is the most valuable gift you can give or leave to anyone.

No, you are right: most of us cannot compete or match the “mana” of Shakespeare. But I would counter this argument by reaffirming the above simple truth: what you leave to others is important. There is no one else like you.


A simple thought exercise: when you are on a bus, subway or sitting at a cafe, pick a random stranger and ask yourself “What can we learn from this person’s life and, more importantly, what will we lose when they are gone?”

What have they done in their life? Where did they go? What did they see? What inspirations illuminated the years of their personal journey?

Did they write? Did they sculpt? Paint? Was the edifice of their learned humanity in some way enshrined? Or like countless others, will all that they were and grew to become be lost to those of us who could have been made better because of them?


Take your journey, lessons, inspirations and, yes, even the ephemera of your musings and make them physical, lasting, and most of all, available to those who come afterward.

Write a book, paint, sculpt, take a picture, design an iconic building, father (or mother) a new philosophy, endow a foundation or lead a country. Lean in to the wind, think ahead, move forward and leave the best of you behind…for all of us.


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