Why you should shape your future legacy
by Christy Armstrong
Sep 01, 2013 | 532 views | 0 0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It is never what a person says that really matters. It is all about what they really do.

Though it may sound clichéd, actions really do speak louder than words.

That is because words don’t mean much when they are not backed up by them.

I once had a journalism professor in college present me with an idea of something he thought would be good for me to try to cover for a class assignment.

Since the newsworthy item in question was the night before the assignment was due and would require a very late night of writing, I said what any cautious student would have. I said I’d try.

He chuckled at my answer and said this:

“There is no such thing as ‘trying’ in journalism. You either get the story, or you don’t.”

The former newspaper reporter who had more years of work experience than I had years breathing the air on this earth had a point.

The end result is all anyone cares about. That is true in writing, and it is true in many other areas of life.

A person can say all the lovely, flowery things they want, but those words mean nothing if they do not bring progress toward an end result.

I still remember being 17 years old and holding my dying grandfather’s hand in an Arkansas hospital room as he spoke his very last word.

Roger Armstrong was a church pastor-turned-computer system repairman who always seemed to do what he said he would do.

There is this funny saying shared in journalism circles that says, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” It is meant to remind students of the importance of verifying whether something a source says is true.

Well, I later realized I had applied that standard to my grandfather before I had ever heard the phrase. If he told his wife, children or grandchildren that he loved them, you knew it was true because his actions eloquently expressed that love.

The last word he ever said was “hallelujah.”

As his hand grew colder and his breath became shallower, he broke eye contact with us family members surrounding him. I was reminded then that even we were not the most important ones in the world to him.

His eyes got this faraway look to them, and his last word was in worship to the God he had served for as long as I could remember. I knew that because he had practiced what he preached.

I will also never forget how one friend back in Tennessee supported me through that tough time.

I was a senior in high school attending Lee University as a dual enrollment student. While I was taking some of the hardest classes I ever had before in subjects I had long struggled with, I was leaving town with my family to drive from Cleveland to Little Rock to see my grandfather each weekend. We never knew when would be our last chance.

Having arrived back in town very late Sunday night and been very distracted from studying, I got up and headed to campus for a final exam early Monday morning.

In my jaunt across campus, I ran into a classmate with whom I had taken a couple of classes the previous year. He made the mistake of asking how I was, and I gave him an honest answer.

Perhaps observing my failing attempts to keep my sleep-deprived emotions in check, he placed both his hands on my shoulders and looked me straight in the eye.

“You can do this,” he said. “I believe in you.” 

He said other things too, but the point is that I felt a little bit calmer by the time I claimed a chair in algebra class and wrote my name in the top right-hand corner of the exam.

He is now studying elsewhere to earn his Juris Doctor degree and become a lawyer. He may make positive impacts in his future career, but what I will most remember is the legacy of how he treated those he simply met in class.

What I learned from both my grandfather and college classmate alike was the importance of a person’s legacy.

We all make mistakes, but it is important to be mindful of the volumes at which your actions speak about who you are.

If you never ask for forgiveness or forgive, then unforgiveness will taint the memories people have of their relationships with you. If you never show a person love, they will not remember you for that.

There is a lot to be said for making every effort to do what you say you will do and backing up what you say with actions that prove the words true.

The word “legacy” is often tagged with a positive and even romantic-sounding note, but the dictionary definition just explains it as “a thing handed down by a predecessor.”

Legacies can be wonderful, or they can be infamous for all the wrong reasons. Fortunately, it is possible to shape how people remember you when you move on from this life — or simply move to another place.

Readers, this is a simple call for honesty. Make sure your actions match up with your words.

And, if you choose to have an impact on the world around you, make sure it is for the better.

The legacy you will be leaving when you are no longer breathing the earth’s air will not necessarily be marked by the things you said.

You will be most remembered by what you did.