by Niall Doherty

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

Earlier this week Chris Guillebeau released a new (free) e-book called The Tower. As you’d expect from that chap, it’s pretty damn good and well worth reading.

Chris talks a lot about legacy projects in there. A legacy project is something we create that changes the world for the better and continues to have a positive impact long after we’re gone. Napoleon Hill’s legacy project was Think And Grow Rich. Michelangelo’s was the Sistine Chapel. Yours might be a website, or a community initiative, or your children.

One thing I have to disagree with Chris on though, is what he considers to be the purpose of life…

Instead of knowledge, pleasure, or happiness, the purpose of life is to create something meaningful that will endure after we’re gone.

I actually believe that life is inherently meaningless. You and I are but specks upon a speck in the universe. In the grand scheme of things, we don’t matter even a tiny bit. This became even more apparent to me upon reading A Short History of Nearly Everything, and learning such things as…

  • 99.99 percent of all species that have ever lived on Earth are now extinct.
  • Behaviorally modern human beings have existed for only about 0.0001 percent of the Earth’s history.
  • The visible universe– the small fraction we know and can talk about — is a million million million million miles across (that’s a 1 with twenty-four 0’s after it).

So yeah, we’re pretty insignificant. If the Earth were to wither and die, and all of humanity ceased to exist, nobody would even notice all the newspapers stacking up on the doorstep. It would be like a single cell in our own bodies dying. No big deal.

But wait, don’t get all depressed just yet. There’s a beautiful paradox here:

Nothing we do matters, and yet it does

It matters in the sense that this one wild, precious and insignificant life of ours is the only way we get to experience the world, the universe, the hummus and the hubris. It’s our only guaranteed shot. As such, it’s wise to make the most of it.

And how do you do that?

Here’s where we get back to talking about legacy projects.

You see, although life is inherently meaningless, we humans have this nifty capability to assign meaning to our lives. And as smart dudes like Viktor Frankl have noted, a life assigned meaning is a life much more fulfilling.

In other words, you get to choose how meaningful your life is. Having a purpose makes your life better. It gives you direction. You wake up every day knowing what to do. And, more importantly, you know why you do what you do.

As I’ve written about before, my life purpose is to be the best person I can be, and to help and inspire others to become their best selves. A legacy project is a great way to turn such a purpose into something tangible. You get to see your progress and impact. You don’t waste away your days mired in mediocrity.

We’ve talked about big, ridiculous goals here before, but those are usually more of a personal nature. I want to circumnavigate the globe without flying and become fluent in the world’s five most widely spoken languages, but those goals don’t help anyone else much. At least not directly.

My legacy project is the work I do here at Disrupting the Rabblement. I hope that I’ll continue to improve as a writer, and that my articles will continue to help and empower people. I expect that if I hold a steady course with all this, I’ll end up having a significant positive impact in the lives of many.

All that to say: Having a self-assigned legacy project fulfills my self-assigned purpose, and makes my life much more enjoyable.

What’s your legacy project?

It’s a big question, so don’t feel bad if you can’t come up with an answer right away. Take your time and figure it out. Try different things, go different places, talk to different people.

Great advice from Mr. Guillebeau on this, too…

If you don’t know what to do at any given stage, start by creating something and giving something. Every day, wake up and think about these two things:

  • What am I making today?
  • Whom am I helping today?

Once again: What are you making? Who are you helping?