Legacy and Ego on a Walk

I was taking a short walk around the block a couple days ago. There was brilliant late afternoon sunshine coming in at a sweet angle. A delightful last-of-summer, about to turn the corner into fall breeze puffed along, carrying the leading edge of a seasonal scent that’s never failed to perk my nose up, ever since I discovered there were many ways to play in the snow.

I reflected, as I strolled around the neighborhood, on some of the work going on in the year-long men’s group I facilitate. (“Facilitate” doesn’t quite capture the nature of my ever-evolving role in this wildly cool community of men. I really don’t know what else to call it…)

We’ve been spending 2021 focusing on legacy and, midway down one of the long blocks I was walking, I began thinking about what happens when ego (of the darker variety) muscles its way into legacy.

Legacy is a fascinating thing in that no matter how we live, it’s all but impossible not to leave some sort of ring on the coffee table of life.

Whether you do great things or small things, good or evil, you’ll make your mark and be remembered accordingly.

Our perennial pal Webster defines legacy as:

1: something (such as property or money) that is received from someone who has died

2: something that has happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past

The egoic mind can do some funky things, and as I walked, I thought of examples of men who tossed their ego into the Vitamix® along with their legacy.

While I can only guess at the flavor and texture of the resulting smoothie, I’m thinking ego’s influence gave it a certain dark, nasty aftertaste…

Then again, it might turn it into one of those super-sweet cocktails that hide any hint of alcohol, quickly knocking you on your drunken rear.

Lance Armstrong came to mind, followed quickly by a short series of “I alone” authoritarian political figures, then Bernie Madoff, then a smattering of other high-profile ne’er-do-wells, and finally a short parade of narcissistic ex-husbands of close female friends.

It was an unsightly collection of dudes whose shadows have (or had) a tight lock on their beings, snagging them, their families, clients, and entire organizations in ugly webs of deceit, gas-lighting and other forms of violence.

Extreme stuff, to be sure.

But one of the qualities of the egoic mind is that it loves extremes, happily ping-ponging between grandiosity and insignificance.

You know, nonsense like “hero or zero,” with no middle ground.

When pronounced dark egoic influence happens, legacy can become an all-consuming, distorted make-or-break proposition. In such cases, Ego is quite happy to burn down the house rather than settle for anything less than greatness – at any cost…

If you’re thinking, “well, that’s not cool”, I concur.

Sadly, it’s all too common.

The more I learn about legacy, the more I’m of the mind that, borrowing freely from the Byrds, “I’ll probably feel a whole lot better when” my ego’s gone.

Or, in the interest of responsibility, I consciously stop reaching for ego.

Make no mistake, reaching for the egoic mind and the distortions and hurtful outcomes that go along with it is a matter of choice.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but being reasonably vigilant about approaching my own legacy in an unattached, intentional, open-hearted manner feels far more kind and, because there’s going to be less mess to clean up, easier.

Of course I want to do good things. I want to be of service and leave the people I touch and the larger world better for my having been here.

Those things matter, but they don’t have to make the front page. They needn’t be grandiose.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that occasions of breaking bread with beloved friends and family, or a subtle moment of connection and reflection with a client – or even one of those fun instances of intimate eye contact with a stranger passing by on the street – work together to quietly, steadily, contribute to this thing called legacy.

Ego can stay home, thank you very much.