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Living Your Legacy With No Boundaries

by Barbara Shaiman

We’ve all heard about everyday people who have righted wrongs, or singlehandedly made a difference in someone’s life. We read countless stories of people who zealously take up a cause after enduring an injustice or tragedy. But creating a legacy is not always just about what you do. It is not about individual actions. It is the core of who you are, how you act, and how you react in life—at home and in business, in private and in public. At every stage of your life, you can evaluate how much involvement makes sense for you. At some stages you might have more time, at others, less. But throughout your life, you should have something beyond your own needs that gives you a purpose.

Expanding One’s Horizons

One year, in our Ambassadors of Caring Program, which is the leadership group of Champions of Caring, a not for profit I founded 17 years ago to promote social activism in youth ( Jill and Sarah, from a suburban area, and Jasmine, from one of Philadelphia’s toughest neighborhoods, collaborated to create a program to foster self-esteem in young girls in their respective communities. They worked together to brainstorm ideas for programs and activities that could be used. The suburban group contacted a local elementary school and organized monthly workshops for at-risk girls. The Philadelphia-based group created a program called “Save the Sisters” to teach their peers how to succeed in high school, go on to college, and avoid getting pregnant, and using drugs.

In creating these service projects, the girls were able not only to make positive changes in their own communities, but it was also an opportunity for them to expand their worldviews from their neighborhoods and learn about the universality of some of the issues facing our society. The collaboration broke down barriers, created new friendships, and promoted respect.

Giving Back at Any Age

Another important lesson I’ve quickly learned from all of the people who I see striving to improve their communities is that it is an ageless pursuit. I have met inspirational adults of all ages and walks of life who have selflessly contributed to the greater good. Of course, all of these individuals are not part of Champions of Caring, but they are proof that there is no statute of limitations when it comes to giving back. It’s never too late to create the kind of life you want and deserve.

Sharing One’s “Wealth”

We should also remember that giving back doesn’t have to minimum contribution attached to it. A group of single mothers whom I know participate in what they call “Penniless Philanthropy.” Once or twice a year, they fill bags with their family’s gently used clothes and accessories and participate in a clothing swap. They then take any items that are not selected in the swap and donate them to a local shelter. Each family gets new additions to their wardrobe and donates some of the money that they would have spent on clothes to the charity of their choice. The best part is, they are teaching this lesson to their children as well.

When finding your own way to living your most fulfilled legacy, remember that the only boundaries that exist are those you place on yourself. We can all turn the things that make us feel passionate each day into something tangible, something rewarding, something special.

2012 PA Conference for Women speaker Barbara Greenspan Shaiman is founder/principal, Champions of Caring and Embrace Your Legacy Now.