Creating a Legacy Project


[Note: This 3,000 word article is all about creating your own legacy project. It’s not short reading, but it can help you work towards building something beautiful.]

In the spring of 2007 I was feeling stuck. As amazing as they were, the four years I had spent in Africa were fading off into the distance. In my new life I had migrated to Seattle, entered graduate school, started a new business, and began traveling independently to faraway places during school breaks.

These were all good projects. Grad school, check. New city, check. Business, travel, volunteer work, marathon training, check. But despite the fact that these were worthwhile ways to spend my time, I knew something big was missing:

I had no legacy project, and it really bothered me.

I thought of a legacy project as something I’d create that would outlast me; something I could point to years from now and have more than just memories to show for it. In other words, I wanted something tangible and documented for anyone who wanted to see it at any time in the future.

As I was looking for a new focus, I considered a few options that initially seemed to be good choices. The major ones were:

1. Create Wealth for Myself

2. Enter a Ph.D. Program

3. Go Back to Africa (or elsewhere as an NGO executive)

All three of these options were attractive, but the more I looked at them the more I realized they were all flawed. The first one, “Create wealth for myself,” would offer long-term benefits (financial independence, increased opportunities), but I had enough experience with making money to know that it needs to be rooted in something deeper to prove ultimately fulfilling.

It’s not strictly a question of denouncing wealth-making in general. Most wealth is created by entrepreneurs, and for a particular season, I don’t see anything wrong with focusing on building up some long-term savings. All I know is that for me, this was no longer an appealing prospect, and it definitely wasn’t a legacy project.

The next option, “Enter a Ph.D. Program,” was something I was also excited about in the beginning. The more I learned about the process, however, the less inspired I was. In addition to a number of conversations I had with advisers I trusted, I attended a conference on African studies (my field of study) around this time, and I was surprised at how petty and critical the conversations were. It appeared to me that many attendees – professors and other graduate students who would be my colleagues if I pursued the Ph.D. option – were more interested in bringing down other people’s ideas than in finding common ground or advancing their own good work.

I know that some people can be remarkable in academia, but experiences like that conference helped me to see that it would be hard for me to be one of them. I’ve heard it said that academics are so contentious because the stakes are so low. I found that to be the case, and I also realized I did not want to put my legacy project on hold for 5-10 years while I went through the rites of passage required with an academic career.

One of the things I’ve thought a lot about is that I spent roughly the same amount of time writing my Master’s thesis as I did writing the World Domination manifesto. The thesis was read by a grand total of three people, the committee members responsible for approving my graduation. They all said nice things about it, but the point is that it was a lot of work for only three people to read.

The World Domination manifesto, on the other hand, has been downloaded by more than 100,000 people so far. It took me a while to figure this out (my friends were telling me for months, and even a couple of my professors), but if I want to reach a wide audience, I think I’ve found my platform.

On to the third option – go back to Africa or elsewhere as an NGO leader. Again, this was attractive, but I also had reservations about it. The time in Africa was incredibly life-changing and foundational for both Jolie and I, but we also believe that we need to keep moving forwards, not backwards. The time to leave the best job in the world is right when you are still enjoying it, and that’s pretty much how it worked out in our case.

Thus, while I enjoyed my time as an NGO executive, the thought of returning to that kind of environment, having to look for a job, and giving up my independence to a certain extent help me realize that this path would not be the best way to create a legacy project.

Good Choices versus Legacy Projects

Note that I viewed all three of these options (Create wealth, continue with graduate school, or return to full-time charity work) as good, valid choices. They were just not the best choices, and I didn’t view any of them as legacy work.

Sometimes you need to reject a number of reasonably good choices to create a legacy project.

This is because legacy work is different from other good, valid work. If you want to create something that will provide tremendous value to others and outlast your own life, you have to be able to clearly answer the question, “How will this really help people?”

For most of us, asking this question can be difficult because it may cause us to realize how little we do that has only negligible long-term value. For me, I knew I had helped people on an individual basis, but I wanted to help more people on a broader basis. That was one of the primary motivations for the legacy project, and the three initial options I considered were somewhat lacking in this regard.

The Next Step: Deciding on What to Do

I began to think about what I was good at and how I could expand on those skills. For me, my primary skills are 1) leading small groups and 2) writing. I’ve had a lot of experience leading groups over the past five years, and while I enjoy that kind of work, I didn’t really see how I could use the skill to help more than one group at a time.

I also knew that coming off my experience working overseas, any major leadership role I took on would undoubtedly be a step down. In Africa I had a staff of 120 people, and I regularly traveled around the region meeting with cabinet ministers, ambassadors, and even presidents. It’s hard to get a job like that back at home when you’re 30 years old and have no record of conventional employment.

Thus, I started looking towards developing my writing as a way to create the legacy project. I decided to create a web site, originally called the 3×5 Project and then The Art of Nonconformity. The goal of the web site would be to encourage independent, unconventional living. I would show how I achieve my own goals (travel to every country in the world, work for myself, etc.) and help other people set and achieve significant goals of their own.

Planning and the Slow Growth Method

That was the idea in a nutshell, but I had a long way to go to make it happen. In fact, the process of planning and outlining took about 12-18 months before I published anything, working off and on while I was going to school and doing other things. If you’ve read about my business work, you may recall that I advocate the ready-fire-aim model for starting something up and then correcting along the way. That is what I’ve done for every business project I’ve ever worked on, but for the legacy project, I wanted to be a bit more careful.

I knew that the personal web site would be something that I’d be working on for a long time. The primary goal was not to make money, but to spread ideas and create a community. You don’t get a lot of second chances with goals like that, so I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing before I jumped in. Instead of ready-fire-aim, the idea here was to be very intentional and deliberate.

In that 12-18 month incubation period, I also started writing regularly without publishing anything. I had in mind that I was writing the initial site content, and in fact I did use some of it later on, but as I worked I realized that my focus was naturally shifting. I tested out different ideas and wrote several drafts of early material. Writing is like any other skill in that you tend to improve over time as long as you keep working on it and make it a regular habit. If you’ve been following the site for a long time (6 months or more, let’s say), I hope you can see some improvement. Of course, I am still far away from being a fluent, professional writer, but I’m glad I took some time in the beginning to work on it before putting things out there for the world to see and critique.

Things to Think About

I’ll continue telling you the story of how this web site came to be, but this is a good transition point to begin thinking about legacy projects in general. When you set out to create something that will outlast you, there are a number of characteristic you need to consider:

  • Beneficiaries – who will benefit from the project
  • Method or Medium – how you will do the work
  • Output – what will be produced as a result of your work
  • Metrics – how will success be measured
  • Future Visualization – how the world will be different because of the project

I’ve listed my own answers below. As you’d expect, your own legacy project will require your own answers – I offer mine as examples, but each project is fundamentally unique.

Beneficiaries: A relatively small group of loyal readers who want to change the world

Method or Medium: Writing (primarily; I also create multimedia products and do some limited events)

Output (2008): 3 essays each week, 1 manifesto, 75k words

Metrics: Visitors / Subscribers / Page Views / Product Sales (although the last one came later)

Future Visualization: You can see the original vision from the first post here. It’s fair to say that things have changed a lot since then. In fact, I now view the original vision as quite limited, as I’ll explain below.

Big Vision / Small Vision

As I wrote on my own for three months, and then as I started the project and began receiving daily feedback, my vision expanded from what I now see was a fairly narrow mission to the current plan.

The small (original) vision included goals like 1,000 readers and a detailed email series. The big (current) vision includes my full-time writing career, major media coverage, the development of a real AONC online store, and a few other things I am keeping to myself for the time being.

The difference between the small, original vision and the big, current vision is quite significant. When I started, I wasn’t certain I would ever monetize the project, and now it provides the bulk of my income (albeit much less than when I worked strictly on entrepreneurial projects). I achieved 1,000 readers within a month of starting up, and quickly realized that it was more important to recruit 1,000 true fans – a small army of remarkable people, as I call it.

A couple of goals took longer than expected – I’m still working on the book contract, for example – but overall, I’ve moved on to bigger and more challenging goals. I view this as evidence that your vision expands as you follow your calling. It works in your favor and serves as confirmation that you’re doing the right thing.

A Legacy Project Requires Legacy Content

When I chose writing (and the default medium of blogging), I knew I wanted to write about subjects that would be relevant for many years to come. I definitely did not want to spend much time writing about current events or politics, even though I closely follow those subjects every day. Instead, I wanted to write what is sometimes called evergreen content, or work that does not lose its value and relevance as time goes by. For the purpose of this article, I’ll call it legacy content.

I’d say that about 70-80% of the essays and posts on the site now fit this description. Articles like this one, the annual review planning outline, all of the detailed information on international travel, and posts that combine theory with practice (How to Be Awesome, A Short Collection of Unconventional Ideas, etc.) are examples of what I consider legacy content. Admittedly, the trip reports from every country do not necessarily fit in this category, but some people enjoy them and I like having a written record of each trip as I pursue my goal.

One of the things I am most excited about is that several of the archive articles have gone on to a life of their own and continue to receive new traffic every day. While I am thrilled that thousands of people are following along with the new articles, I am equally excited that hundreds of (new) people also stumble on the archive content every day. Presumably, I could stop writing now, never post anything else, and the site would remain somewhat active thanks to the legacy content.

Of course, I have no intention of stopping. I just appreciate that I have articles and other content out there that add value to readers’ lives even while I am out traveling the world or writing about new ideas. For me it is one of the most rewarding things about the project, and further confirmation that I made the right decision to focus on this more than anything else.

A Legacy Project Requires Serious Commitment

Because I’ve maintained several big commitments simultaneously in the past, I initially thought it would be no big deal to add another one. I found out I was wrong about this. Even though I have been creating web sites for 10 years, I still underestimated the amount of time required for successful marketing and connecting with other people on this one.

Yes, technically I can crank out the writing in 10-20 hours a week depending on what is going on – but I didn’t foresee all the other tasks and mini-projects I’d need to actively take on to make this project a success. I do no outsourcing and respond to every email myself.

The reality that I need to work more than I thought has required some sacrifices I did not expect in the beginning, and it took me a while to become comfortable with this. Multitasking and managing multiple, big projects has worked for me for 10 years and counting. Technically, I still have a lot of plates in the air, but far fewer than I’m used to. I wrote the post on Radical Exclusion during a week when I was taking a serious look at how I spend my time, and I do strive to accurately model the things I write about.

I don’t think everyone’s experience with this will be the same. I’d expect that a person who is dedicated enough could create a legacy project by working only a few hours a week over a longer period of time. However, I don’t work very well that way, and even if you do, I think it’s fair to say that it will require more time than you expect in the beginning.

Art and Fear

During the early part of the process, I experienced a lot of fear that I would fail. No one would read, people would read but not care, I’d give up after a few months, I’d give in to distractions and wouldn’t keep the schedule, and so on. The question I kept asking myself through the 12-18 months before getting started was, “What if I don’t try? How will I feel then?”

I was uncertain about a lot of things, but this question had a clear answer: if I didn’t try, I had no doubt I would regret it. More than anything else, that answer was why I started the site.

Far from Over

My legacy project is far from complete; in fact, I think it is just beginning. I write a lot more detailed, how-to articles like this one because they are what the majority of readers respond best to. We made a big writing and design change in early January. All of the metrics I track are up at least 20% over the past month, and more good things are on the way.

Every day I get up thinking about how to improve this project. I haven’t felt this kind of confidence since the second and third years of my time in Africa. I have learned from many of you, and I’m glad that you’re keeping me accountable and encouraging me to keep raising the standard. And as I said, the end goals are much bigger than when I started. If you’ve read this far, I assume you’re fairly committed – and I greatly appreciate you being along for the journey.

Your Own Legacy Project

By nature, this article was all about my work. I try to share by example and with a fair amount of transparency. If it sounds like I’m fairly confident about this subject, I can assure you I’ve made countless mistakes and false starts along the way. I’m pretty sure that’s how it works when you set out to change the world.

Also, I’ve used the example of writing because that’s what I do. Obviously, there are other mediums you can use for a legacy project. My personal hero is a guy who lives in Africa and does free reconstructive surgery for people who lack adequate medical care. I think most people would agree that is an extremely meaningful legacy project. Since it’s probably a good idea to get some training before setting out to do surgery, I chose writing instead.

I also know that I did a lot of unrelated things before I started working on the legacy project. I see those things as prerequisites, not wasteful years. I am far more interested in looking to the future than to the past. All of the things I promote on a regular basis – intentional thinking, questioning expectations, finding your way through the wilderness – are important in this process.

You can do this too, in your own way.

You can make something beautiful that will outlast you.

You can help others in a way that is unique to you.

Remember: we all get one life to live. You might as well take it seriously, and a legacy project will ensure that what you bring to the world will continue to be valuable for a long time.

Are you up for it?

(I know it was a long article, but if you stuck with it, I’d love to know what you think. Feel free to share your thoughts, suggestions, or your own legacy project ideas in the comments.)


Image: HebeDesign

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  • Rebecca says:

    This was a great post. I think a lot of us are searching for a way to matter in the long-term and for me, that was my blog as well. I’ve had a lot of nonprofit experience as well and I wanted a way to match that experience with my skills that were intensely personal to me. Anyway, the term legacy is great way to describe all this. Enjoyed the (long) post 🙂

  • kare Anderson says:

    Your post will be an evergreen –
    timely in a treacherous economy and timeless because it resonated with one line
    that was most meaningful for me in reading Jim Collins’ books,
    something to the effect that what often gets in the way of being great is being good at something.

    As a boomer (a different stage in my life than you) I too experienced early success
    as a journalist here and overseas and felt stalled by my next successful jobs
    (was good at them but no inherent legacy meaning)
    and have fumbled my way into facing the fears of honing the best stuff
    – emotional intelligence requires the discipline to, as you noted so well,
    radically exclude some activities and writing.

    Your longish post was just right for me. Thank you and kudos on your path and the rewards you’ve earned along the way and now.

  • Kristian says:

    I relate to the fear that you felt when you began your project, especially the fear of not being able to follow through with my own ambitions.

    My legacy project is twofold: 1) Create new medical technology that meets the immediate needs of people in developing nations, while simultaneously 2) being actively involved in the dialog between science and culture. Since this is not a conventional vocation, the path to get there is not so obvious and the possibilities for failure and dead ends are many. But, like you, the feeling I get when I think of not trying is more repulsive than the fear of failure.

  • Stephen Hopson says:

    The opening words that described how in the Spring of 07 found you feeling stuck is what caught my attention because, my friend, I started off the year feeling exactly like that!

    I went on a self imposed sabbatical of sorts to assess, reflect, pray and meditate on the meaning of my life. in short, I was subconsciously searching for a legacy to create and leave behind.

    Steve Pavlina had written a similar article about creating value and then finding a way to deliver it. This is exactly what you talked about in this article. Both your article and Steve’s planted seeds in my mind to germinate and sprout forth ideas of how I might be able to create something that will not only benefit many people but also outlast my life.

    Thanks for the timely article. I enjoy your writing style and am grateful for your words of wisdom. Even though I don’t always leave comments, rest assured I read just about every post you write since I’m one of the faithful subscribers.

    BTW, if you’re ever up for an interesting book, I’d recommend the classic “The Power of Your Subconscious Mind” by Joseph Murphy.

  • Izabella Tabarovsky says:

    Great article, Chris. The idea of creating meaning in my own life and helping others do the same in theirs has been central for me, and the idea of a legacy project resonates deeply with me. True legacy to me is about the difference you make in the world – the kind of difference that’s most meaningful to you personally. In your case, it looks like the legacy that’s most meaningful to you is changing the world through ideas. You’re well on your way – well done!

  • Chris says:

    Thanks, everyone! I knew that some of you smart people could read 3,500 words. 🙂

    I look forward to hearing more of your own ideas for legacy projects.

  • Danny Garant says:

    I don’t remember how I came to follow this blog. But I know why I stick to it. Cause the days I discovered it were the days when I decided to transform a dream to a project. My own legacy project. And here, I found a community dedicated to that.

    For the record, I didn’t read the 3,500 words.

  • Elvis Montero says:

    I’ve just shared this article with a good friend of mine. We’ve been repeatedly discussing the meaning of life, creating value for other people and legacy for the past week or so. We’re only in our mid-twenties and we’re already thinking about this stuff (admittedly, we’re weird — in a good way, of course).

    Like Stephen, I don’t always leave comments. However, I’m a proud member of your small army of remarkable people!

    Keep up the awesome work!

  • Pat G says:

    I haven’t got a legacy project yet. But I think this is my favourite post here.

    I also quite like a couple of the comments – might have to start reading back on the site, instead of from my inbox.

  • Scott says:

    Truly inspirational for someone just starting out! This year I figured I’d change the world. I haven’t quite figured out how exactly so I thought I’d start with myself, by changing what I do and get done. The little things add up over time.

  • Robert L. Gisel says:

    Hi Chris,

    It’s interesting to me I had just posted on my site about creating Drive and it came out as, first you need to clarify your goals. This idea of a Legacy Project is a good way of putting it. Sometimes I think this morbid thought maybe I’m spinning my wheels only to have my most genius ideas realized after I’ve passed on. An army of remarkable followers is a good community to have in the here and now. I mean you wouldn’t want to have an empty room at your wake!

    All kidding aside, when you do something decide on a path and leap into the fray it always amazes me when I see how the physical universe starts to tow the line. Not that there aren’t bumps and obstacles but the experience of having materialized something, a legacy, is a special creation.

    I set up some larger legacy projects which take more than a few days to complete (I say tongue in cheek), but complete they do, a couple major plans completed (blogs, screenplays) and these others (Novel, EV Retrofit) coming along one of these days. I think my “Take Hill 10” might be facilitated with more baby steps, like, “Gather up the available ammo”.

  • Alex says:

    The ultimate question is what will my legacy be?

    When people dream about careers, they are tied to financial interests and the things they can do with gained financial freedom. When people think about love, they think about how they can establish relationships in their life worth keeping….so on and so forth. But when you talk about “legacy” wow, that underlies everything….career, relationships, spirituality, leisure….etc.

    A legacy is something that keeps on giving outside of your physical presence. But for example something like money is finite, you can leave a large trust to your surviving family,
    but the intangibles of love, respect, value that you can forever inspire in people (like through writing for instance that can stand the test of time), now that’s a legacy.

  • Robert Gisel says:

    That’s right Alex, it lives on through time.

    Isn’t that exciting. The arts are the best for this, so yes, writing, most definately. Chariot companies have come and gone, but legacy writings live on still.

  • Ann Victor says:

    “Legacy project” is a great term. You’ve done a great job of giving pratical guidelines on how to achieve our own personal legacies. And it’s very true that when one is aiming for a lasting legacy beyond one’s own mortality it requires greater commitment and sacrifice then one could have imagined.

    Your hero the surgeon is just one of the many reasons I love living in Africa: ours may be the Dark Continent, but it’s also the breeding ground for so many ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Nkosi sikelel i’Afrika!

  • Shiroh says:

    I loved this article as i do most of your work. Keep up. I live in Africa, i haven’t followed your Africa stories but which countries did you work. Africa is a continent you know. I live in Kenya.. It’s like saying Europe.

    Keep posting

  • Nimish says:


    An interesting and insightful post. It evoked something in me whereby I started thinking about many other things that make me who I am. This legacy project approach seems to have merit, so I’ve been soul searching a bit to understand where I stand.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post, I enjoyed reading it.


  • Zoe says:

    Chris, this article was well worth the 3,500 words. I often find that your articles take ideas that have been floating around my mind and put them eloquently on the page!

    Wonderful motivation :).

  • John says:

    Great article, Chris. It reminded me about an article of Steve Pavlina about creating and delivering value. The big question for me is still: how can I expand my good skills to something that will benefit many? What am I going to do? I guess I still need some small projects to experiment . Thank you for this article.

  • Hayden Tompkins says:

    I run into so many people who say, “I just want to help others” but then find that helping others (ala volunteering, etc.) isn’t necessarily as rewarding as they had imagined. I think a large reason for that is that they simply aren’t working on a ‘legacy project’ although I don’t think I could have articulated that before reading this article.

    Thank you for writing this!

  • Nathan Hangen says:

    Chris, I love this post to death. I had no idea you were able to get 1,000 readers in a month – dang!

    Legacy project – what an interesting term. In a religion and psychology class I took in college, we talked about a different kind of legacy project. This kind was one to help the ego feel like it was living forever. The kind of legacy project you are talking about here has nothing to do with that. You remind me a lot of Chris Brogan, only you are more of a rebel…which is great.

    I love the path you are on and I think you made a good choice with this project. I also think that it is fascinating to watch small dreams turn into giant dreams – all of which are accomplished.

    Keep rocking on man.

  • Nathan Hangen says:

    I forgot to provide my ideas:

    1) My Novel – How Running Changed My Life

    2) My charity – The Dharma Foundation

    3) An animal haven for abandoned and abused animals

    4) Does owning the TB Buccaneers count?

  • Parag Shah says:

    Hi Chris,

    I totally enjoyed reading this essay. I have been thinking of doing something similar from a long time, and I believe I am working towards it one step at a time.

    I am an independent software developer, and trainer, and I have been thinking of how I can work on open source projects which have the power to promote education, and healthcare, and earn revenue in the process. I think I have a fair idea of how this may be possible by combining open source development and new media (blogs, podcasts, and screencasts).

    I have already started thinking of the open source projects I would like to host, the impact they will have, and also how I can generate revenue.

    Your posts have helped give me direction to a very large extent, and I thank you for it. Just like you I will also share my journey as it unfolds.


  • Frances Schagen says:

    My legacy project is to unite and empower small business owners into a community whose aim is to live the lives we want.

    I think that if all people have economic control over thier lives, they will be able to focus some of their attention on making their world a better place.

    Small business is a tribe that is 1 million years old and has billions of members. How’s that for economic power?

    I’m trying to help as many small business owners be successful as I can and I’m working to build a new library in my community.

  • Parag Shah says:


    I totally agree. I am a small business (one person company) owner and I absolutely love this mode of work.

  • L.J.T. says:

    Thanks for this article. It not only gives me an idea of what you’re trying to accomplish, but makes me think about how I could incorporate this idea in my own life.

  • Jen says:

    I enjoyed this post from start to finish. It really made me think about what I would like to do / leave behind me to actually make a difference, even if just one person reads what I write! jen x

  • Coach Lo says:

    Loved your article. I am an Executive Director of a non-profit that provides free afterschool programs for low income families in the San Francisco Bay Area. If I had to choose only one lesson to teach our kids, it would be lesson of ‘giving’.

    I see so many young people caught up in the ‘what’s mine is mine’ mentality. They are coveting, fighting and killing one another in order to have the biggest and the best. My duties include raising money to support our programs where we hope to build strong and successful Scholar Athletes, but I am passionate about incorporating lessons under our life skills program that involve the children in building their legacys. I do believe that by helping one child at a time, we are changing the world. Years ago, a teacher took a great risk with me and the opportunity she provided me, not only drastically changed my life, but in the past 30 years…I have great faith that my life’s work has helped change hundreds of lives and they helped change hundreds of lives….the math is staggering.

    The best to you and your legacy project!

  • ask the wYman says:

    Hi to Chris and the army,

    It was a thought provoking post. I was happy to read all of you that want to change the world, as do I.

    At age 71 I may not have a lot of time to create a legacy but I am under way. I like Robert Allen (zero down real estate author) want to create a million millionaires how will use their wealth to change the world.

    If several millionaires adopt a country they could make a big difference. A rock star from Haiti is going back to help and is a hero. They need more to join him to really turn things around.

    Good luck to all who are trying to change the world. The Internet is creating many millionaires.

    Maybe you, Chris and other travelers can add finding some good contacts that could direct projects within their countries for us millionaires. No drug dealers or US congressmen please.

  • Melissa says:

    What a great post. It is truly inspiring and — what is more rare in this type of blog entry or essay — instructive. You have found a pitch-perfect voice. I’m excited to be part of your ‘tribe.’

    A couple of years ago I was diagnosed with a terminal bone marrow disorder…which then transitioned to acute leukemia. I had a bone marrow transplant, which cured both conditions. Anyway, all of that just to say that a near-death experience completely changed my outlook on life and reversed my priorities. One thing that was immediately apparent to me was the importance (and urgency) of creating a legacy.

    Thank you for your shining example of how it’s done! 🙂

  • Tess Giles says:

    I’m so glad to have found your site and especially this post. You articulate a lot of what’s been going on in my own mind for a while now.

    I’ve been researching my family history over the past year or so and have realised how those of us without children fall off family history maps. Our legacies are not our children.

    I realise this is a different kind of legacy from the one you’re talking about, but I have a real fear that there will be nothing to show for my life. This article is exactly the kind of inspiration I need.

  • dj says:

    Would the Peace Corp be an option?

    I have relatives who have spent time in Republic of Georgia and China. One is a philosophy teacher and took a sabbatical to teach English for several years.

    Your site reminds me of the PBS program, “Affluenza” (n. 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses). Speaking of PBS, how about options at GlobeTrekkers or Independent Lens.

  • Dolly Garlo says:

    What a joy to read this post, Chris. It does my heart good to hear people being to consciously consider what their lives mean and what they will leave behind for having been here that benefits others.

    Coming from the professional worlds of health care, law and business, I have long thought I was alone in the wilderness wondering where the ideals I learned in all my training went. I’m all for people developing wealth and a healthy sustainable financial bottom line in business, but to what end? Gluttony and greed are just plain ugly, and consumption used to be a serious respiratory disease to be avoided! The epidemic of over-consumption, not knowing what IS enough for each of us and simply going for more, more, more is just as potentially deadly.

    To me, legacy is about living a full life, expressing your talents in a way that is really joyful to you (because, at it’s foundation, isn’t happiness, love and appreciation for who we are really what we all seek?) and that benefits someone else. Because we each do have something that will benefit someone else – so why not focus on that? We all have gifts to give, big (as we want) and small, daily and over the long term. And in giving them is receiving the best gift in return – feeling great about who we are and the privilege of being alive and getting to experience the magnifence of truly being human.

    I’ve detailed my own ‘first’ legacy project, and am collecting more legacy stories to publish, on my website – which is in the process of becoming my next legacy project: helping as many people as I can create great legacies to “make a difference now that lasts for generations.” I can’t think of anything more fun and rewarding to do with my time (and I’m a pretty fun gal, outside of working … 🙂

    Thank you for demonstrating the consciousness I am looking for on this planet – it is so wanted and needed right now – and for attracting the comments of kindred spirits. So inspiring to read everyone’s posts. I look forward to a time when everyone talks about what their legacy will be, and they are planning it/them and living it/them, rather than looking backward from the end of life and trying to figure it out. It’s never too early or too late to think about it, dream it up and act on your ideas. The world needs them more than ever.

    Right on!

    Cheers, Dolly

  • v says:

    I seriously was confronted this week with a choice of following my passion (an actual “legacy project” of my own), or a way to financial freedom that suddenly presented itself to me. I knew financial freedom would definitely allow me to pursue my life project, help out family, donate to charity, and help in other ways to the world. My first reaction was to go for the financial freedom business opportunity, but it would require all or most of my focus for the first few months if I really wanted to get something out of it. A question kept bothering me: “If I die tomorrow, would I rather die not rich, but very happy doing what I’m doing now, or would I be okay with dying while in the process to make money to finance and speed up my project?”

    I know I need money to live, I know I need money to produce my project. But I am happy already, now, even without completing the projects yet. Do I need more, or would that be excess? I laughed as I literally typed in “Following your passion or financial freedom” in the Google box. Your blog was the first one up- the article “Following your passion?”

    I didn’t think I’d get such a specific answer for my situation from a search engine. Definitely “help from the universe”. (By the way, I just happened to be reading The Alchemist, and exactly after I read that same line you quote from Paulo Coelho [in “The Decision to be Remarkable”] I put the book down to go online, and then stumbled upon your blog. Magic.)

    That was two days ago, and I can’t stop reading your work. I also made my decision: Duh, I’d rather die happy any day, I’m already living my dream. And making enough money, enthusiasm, and passion to pull it off very soon anyway. Thank you for making the decision to do what makes you feel alive, it’s helped at least one determined soul out here to do the same.

  • minuteman says:

    Amazing article, Chris. This is sparking so many ideas in my mind, I need to start jotting them down now before they escape me. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Ryan says:

    I’m just now building my legacy project, or what I would consider a formal representation of what I am and who I want to be.

    However, the more I think about it and the life of those I consider great men and women, I realize that even a life well-lived but without a “legacy project” is as epic and long-lasting as Mozart’s Requiem. It’s difficult to capture epic meaning and truth in a medium such as writing, but definitely possible. On the other hand, it’s the stories about truly great people that we read about centuries down the road. These people lived remarkably–their legacy project was their life.

    My legacy project? Try to live a life worthy of emulation–that because of who I am, people will remember me. The task now? To do those things that will make me into that person.

  • Aurooba says:

    Great article, Chris. Found it via The Illuminated Mind. Certainly makes me think, and something along the lines of this has been going on in the back of my mind that I’ve been working on occasionally, on and off. Now I have a name for it. =)

  • miltownkid says:

    Since I read to the bottom of the article and you said you’d “love” to hear what I thought, here I go… (You asked for it!)

    I found your page through an interesting series of events. I think how I got here is just as important as what I think so I’ll share. About a year ago I had the idea for a “legacy project” called “The MilTownKlan.” I’m still sorting out the particulars of what it’s all about (another story). A couple weeks ago I breathed life back into a discussion forum I started about 6 months back. One of the first new posts from a returning member was in the Pwning Life category (another legacy project) describing some new ways to “pwn life” and listed the Zen habits blog as a good resource.

    Earlier today I decided to visit the Zen habits blog and see what was “poppin’.” What I ended up reading was a post titled “Why Motivation Doesn’t Matter – By Jonathon Mead.” Having been a little unmotivated for the last couple weeks/months I decided to read through it. Then I decided to read some stuff on his personal blog. Then I caught a link to this post from his blog (How to Start a Revolution) and… here I am. 🙂

    I think my largest “problem” is… Having too many legacy projects. Here they are (in no particular order):

    Pwning Life – A guide, community, blog and business dedicated to teaching people how to “pwn” the only game that matters.

    MilTownKlan – A brotherhood/tribe of on and off-line ninjas that do “epic shit.”

    Black Horse Taichi – My Taichi school recently got a name and I plan on being the best taichi push hands player in the world (and spreading the science).

    Social Milwaukee – Teach any non-profit or business which is in the business of making Milwaukee a better place, how to use all this new fangled Social Media stuff.

    A Barter Exchange – I think money is quite flawed in mans pursuit of epicness. A better system of exchange exists.

    That’s probably enough. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • emily-sarah says:

    Love this! Another way to think about it is to create a “legacy statement.” (Full disclosure: This is a favorite part of what I help people do through the biz I co-founded with my hubby.) “Legacy” exudes grand connotations, but you leave a legacy whether it’s intentional or not, and exploring what lasting lessons and truths — and projects — you want to claim and impart can also help you achieve more focus in your everyday life. People often think of legacy AFTER someone dies, but if you start asking the tough questions now (ie. what’s at your core?!) you take on a valuable exercise to define what you cherish most AND put a spotlight on what you’re currently doing. In other words, does how you live your daily life align with what you say your priorities are? It’s a powerful approach to clear out clutter and create a road map to make sure your life lines up with your intended purpose. “Legacy” isn’t only for the “privileged”; it’s attached to every human being (and we are all interconnected).

  • Laura Cococcia says:

    Wow. I just came across your site through today’s post on Zen Habits. It’s so funny because these types of topics have been on my mind lately – thinking unconventionally, doing something impactful – but I haven’t been able to put a framework around it. You’ve definitely provided great thought starters, so thank you! You’ve got a follower in me, for sure.

  • Kit Ng says:

    I stumbled upon this site when I read the post on Zen Habits, and I am glad that I made that click to bring me here. I love your post. I have been always working on something on a regular basis, but never in that way like a legacy project. It is so meaningful.

  • Cindy says:

    Thanks for the great post, Chris, which I found circuitously through Garr Reynolds’ Zen Presentation video on YouTube. You gave a name, “legacy,” to a project I have been envisioning, which would create a mentoring community for orphans who have to leave their home/organizations at 17 or 18 to find work and start families of their own. Many of them have never lived in a family, and some may have motivational problems due to early abuse or trauma. As you said, the vision grows as pieces begin to fall into place. The goal is to keep that vision always in mind, and not get distracted when there are lulls in the planning. Thanks for the encouragement to stay the course.

  • Leo says:

    Fine work, here, indeed.

    The ‘evergreen’ concept is poetic–a useful metaphor in mediating the imaginal and legacy-realized.


  • Egirl says:

    Excellent post, Chris. This is my first visit to your site (via Zen Habits). I really enjoyed this article. It helped me see where I’m going and finally defined what I’m trying to do: Create A Legacy Project. Awesome stuff . . . thank you!

  • Colleen says:

    I love your transparency, Chris. Thank you.
    I found this article through a link in one of your other posts.
    The words ‘legacy project’ drew me in and now I know it’s because I’m in the very beginning stages of my own legacy project. (I’m creating a website and coaching business for people who work closely with children and who want to do their work with intention, facilitating them on their true paths of accountability and greatness from an early age).
    My thought, though, is that a lot of people – mother’s possibly more than father’s – consider raising their children as their legacy project. It’s almost like a reason to not seek out that ‘big true gift’ they have for the world. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely those who can legitimately claim parenting as their legacy project but more people claim it than those who really make it work.
    So, thank you again for going into detail and listing the qualities of what legacy really means.

  • Jon says:

    I enjoyed the article (I did read it all). What I will leave behind when I die is something I think about far too often. That is one of the reasons I enjoy creating things in metal; I know the things I make will out last me. The difficult part for me is making enough money with that so I don’t have to go back to another meaningless job.

  • James Nicholls says:

    One of your best Chris. Keep it up.

  • Amrit says:

    A great thought provoking article. Creating a legacy is something that is always at the back of my mind, I think it is time it moves to the front. Like many said, we have only one life to live, and should make the best of it.

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to reflect and restore some faith in my dream.

  • Kristine says:

    Thanks, Chris. I found this post from today’s “The Best $1.26 I Ever Made” post, and I enjoyed them both, although this one definitely has more of that evergreen quality! I have been deep in planning my next incarnation for most of the last two years and I feel like I’m slowly chiseling a sculpture from a giant block of marble by listening to what the marble tells me, not by following a pre-set plan. If I could see my way to that pre-set plan, I would happily follow it–but it seems I can only see a few moves ahead at any given time and I have to find the form slowly and intuitively. I have felt optimistic lately as I have paid off two major debts within months of each other and can actually see my way to a time when I will be able to afford to work less in a conventional way and more on my true life’s work. Please keep leaving the bread crumbs!

  • Sanford says:

    I come to your site as something of a compusive “job-hopper” and ne’er-do-well (at least financially). I’ve started my own site now, and am struggling through some of the technical ins and outs and trying to stay afloat at the same time.
    I’m hoping that the articles and pieces that I write will eventually have half the endurance of yours. It’s great that you still get good comments months down the line.
    Anyway, AONC is on my blogroll.
    Keep ’em comin’!

  • Cameron says:


    Stellar article, my friend. I really dig the way you translate such an epic subject into a concise, albeit long-ish format. You’re truly an inspiration, and this is a welcome kick in the but that has helped me with my long term planning. This is a post I’ll return to a couple of times I’m sure.

    – Cam

  • RobertGisel says:

    Having come back to re-read this post and the comments it occurs to me this; you will outlast you.

    It’s understood you mean to have to have something written and enduring that continues on. But that which you do which is remarkable will do this too. Governor Reagon balanced the books for the State of California. Equally, with an inverse reception, Nixon is now known for the Watergate scandal and OJ is more in jail for the Karma of the murder charges he ‘got away with’ than the current theft charges.

    Even if you believe you get only one time around you still have to face yourself in the sift of, did I do good or did I make a mess of it. The real legacy is that bodies die and beings will live on to see what they done. Whether you believe this or not only the reprehensible would say ‘I don’t care what is left after I die’.

    As it’s said colloquially, it’s Karma.

    Good works speak well and long to the degree they are useful and lasting. That’s the real legacy, n’est pas?

  • Laura Lee Bloor says:

    Thank you so much for this inspiring piece, Chris! I’ve been working on my own legacy project (without even realizing it) since February of this year — Tenacious Me. I too am trying to share through example of how I set and achieve goals. In this process of self-improvement, I’m hoping to help and inspire others along the way.

    I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I am to have found your site. Good luck, and thanks again for sharing.

  • Kendra says:

    Hey Chris,

    I’ve been following you for awhile and I just wanted to let you know that it’s been very comforting knowing I am not the only soul who wants to leave a legacy and do remarkable things for others and myself. Keep writing, and I’ll keep working my way through your archives!


  • emma says:

    Thank you for providing the guidelines that worked for you. I’ve been mulling the need for a legacy project of my own for a few months now and I appreciate the nudging this post is providing.

  • Christina McFaul says:

    Articles taking on a life of their own… now I see what you mean.

    This post will be the first of 2010 and I am sure it will be circulated for years to come.
    Thank you for the 3,500 words of inspiration that came at just the right moment.
    I am in the process of creating content for my blog about circumnavigating the world.
    The one question that keeps me going through all the fears is the same one that kept you going.
    “What if I don’t try? How will I feel then?”

    Thanks for sharing your vision with us Chris ~


  • Naomi says:

    I loved this article! What you wrote about is exactly what i have been feeling for so long, I have been wanting to write a “legacy” basicly for my children for such a long time and feel it will also lead into other things other writings. However have been very fearfull to even start and try although this (writing) is where i feel most comfortable and at home. I am excited to read your othere articles, i am a daycare owner desiring to attempt freelance writing from home to be able to open up more time for family. I look foward to reading more of your articles thank you for staying true to your calling.:)

  • Tracey says:

    Thanks for linking back to this again! I’ve been following for about two years, and finally figured out my own Legacy Project, which involves starting a non-profit to provide free legal/logistical info to young people starting creative business (mostly musicians/bands). I’ve just gotten started, and I’m psyched! 🙂

    If it’s OK, I’d like to make a suggestion for a future post (I know you’re busy now, but maybe someday?): You’ve mentioned that identifying the needs/wants of your audience and finding ways to deliver is an effective business model, and I totally agree. But in the case of a non-profit, it seems like the services go to one group of people, while the money comes from another. Since you’re involved with a lot of non-profit work, and other army members’ legacy projects might involve non-profits too, is this something you might consider addressing?

    Thanks so much for all your hard work, I’m looking forward to your book!

  • Christianne says:


    I’m so glad you linked to this post, too, or else I’m not sure I would have found it.

    I am so inspired by two things: what you wrote, and the small army of remarkable people evidenced here in the comments. What an encouraging tribe! It gives me faith in the good work humanity is doing around the world. There is such generosity and care and kindness here.

    I’ve been reading for a while and rarely comment. This one merits a comment because you speak to what I desire to do through my nonviolence journey: offer transparency about my journey and the ins and outs I discover about myself that may translate somehow to the human heart and help others ask the questions and live the questions too … and perhaps create a more compassionate and kind world.

    Thanks, Chris. You rock.

  • fidelis says:

    I am a first timer through your site and was fascinated by the varied comments and contributions posted by the other readers. Its always refreshing to see people’s intentions be about ‘greater than self’. I, like all(most) of the contributers, am attempting to turn visionary projects into reality, and make them sustainable. Create legacies for the future. But being in Africa and an average citizen therein, the tasks seem all the more daunting and the obstacles many, primarily financial. Some of the contributers indicated the willingness to work with individuals within the African continent. I would be willing to get chatting to see if we strike a common thread and perhaps establish a rapour leading towards facilitating good legacy projects. Thanks for your article, I pray it grows in influencing more people with the means to partner with those of us with the dreams to change the world for the better…

  • Jordan Bowman says:

    Chris, I appreciate how transparent you are with all of your work. It really helps out the rest of us to see how you’ve done it! Also, I really like the idea of a legacy project. It seems like it’s natural human tendency to go through life without actually taking action and doing something worthwhile that will outlast you, and it’s great when you get the guts to go out and make it happen.

  • Jonathan Rego says:

    One of the things that most independant lifestyle blogs lack is the “How-did-I-do-it” section. With this post (and the convenient hyperlinking) you have nailed it on the head.

    Although I have been following you for over 18 months now, this is the first time I cam acorss this piece. Well, better late than never.

    Onto my Legacy Project.

  • Lisa Wascher says:

    Today I was pondering how doing my own web thing is just so much of reinventing the wheel – it’s already been done by so many. Having read your legacy article, I think it’s more worthwhile to spend my time creating a non-profit for small animal rescues to fund vet care and such – basically fund raising that rescues can tap for financial resources when needed. I see so many people in local and nationwide rescues trying their best to help animals with limited resources. I want to help them help the animals. Thanks for the clarity in purpose.

  • kate says:

    Just read today!!
    Congratulations on creating a great “Evergreen” piece. Thanks for your full expression and evolution on this subject. I feel more inclined to let my readers know of my true intentions even though I know it will continue to evolve.


  • Chris says:

    This article helped me figure out what my own legacy project will be. I think that in itself is a wonderful legacy project: writing to help other people find their own, personal legacy projects and purposes in life.

    Thankyou for writing this article and sharing it with the world!

  • Denise says:

    And almost 3 years later this post still resonates and inspires. ; ) This is exactly what I’m struggling with right now and have been for years, really. It’s not enough for me to get up everyday a go to work, I want to get up everyday and do something that makes the world a better place. My issue is defining the “thing.” I have some ideas, I’m trying stuff, and hopefully it’ll all come together sooner as opposed to later. Thanks for continuing to share your journey.

  • Noel Coleman says:

    Here’s my take: everyone is already working on their legacy project. It’s just a question of whether or not your legacy project will be intentional or accidental. Because accidental legacies are never the legacy you want. It’s what life hands you. (And it usually hands you your own butt.)

  • auspiciousbunny says:

    I am going to walk seven miles through a forest. That will be my legacy. Leaving nothing behind.

  • Greg Zen says:

    Awesome write up! I’m working on my legacy project now, so thanks for the inspiration! Now how do I follow?

  • Kajari Bhattacharya says:

    I started reading your book The Happiness of Pursuit last week, and I still have a few pages to go. This article is another great write up. Right now, I am trying to find my own personal quest. The one that will bring purpose to my life, and hopefully, help others as well. I’m not sure I can do something as big as a legacy project, but I’m definitely going to try. You have made me sit up, stop sleeping round the clock and do some serious soul searching to change the way I’ve been living the past four or five years. So, thank you, Chris. You certainly are making a difference

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  • Lea A. Angeles says:

    I just happen to be searching about leaving a legacy and I come across your post. Thank you for sharing inspiring tips. Now, I have to work on it to be realized. God bless! 🙂

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