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What I Learned This Week: How To Leave A (Real) Legacy

09/30/2013 12:58 EDT | Updated 11/30/2013 05:12 EST

I had dinner with an old friend in Toronto last week, and as old friends do, we discussed heady matters like concerts, sports, food...and legacy.

Said friend is quite the influential one, and has been approached many a time to run for major political office. He admitted that for a while, he had considered it seriously -- VERY seriously -- and did so for two specific reasons: to make a difference, and to leave a lasting legacy.

In the end, he bowed out gracefully, saying that he didn't need politics to make a difference...which left us with the legacy portion of the discussion.

My take on the subject was a little rough, and somewhat cynical, going as far as to say that "Legacy ain't what it used to be." (Don't blame me, blame the wine...)

And with that, the rant was off and running.

What exactly is leaving a "legacy"? Having a bridge named after you? An airport? A dam? A crumbling block of engraved cement splattered with gum on a Walk of Fame? These days, with so much information being spewed and consumed and ultimately displaced by other information (and at a frighteningly rapid rate), who remembers the who or the why anymore? Does anybody know who Toronto's Pearson Airport or Nevada's Hoover Dam was named after? Does anybody realize New York's Lincoln Centre was named after cultural giant Lincoln Kirstein and NOT after Abraham Lincoln?

And even if so...does anybody even care?

Aside from history buffs, the answer is a depressing "No...not really." The speed of the present and the onrush of the future is making the past increasingly irrelevant. No matter how great your achievement, in the end, it's just another line on one of a billion Wikipedia pages or a few seconds on a tour guide's cliched script.

But again, does impactful behaviour really have to be widespread to leave a proper legacy? We now live in a time of extreme narrow-casting; for example, in the TV world, general broadcast networks begat specialty sports networks which begat golf channels which I promise will soon beget putting channels (left-handed or right-handed; your choice!). The sheer volume of population and its many diverse interests spawn slender niches which are sliced thinner still, yet still manage to comprise a remarkably sizable market to influence.

And as legacy goes, perhaps the most important niche market for one to influence is that of your family.

Small niche. But huge as per this week's learning.

Let's face it, most of us ain't going to become a Martin Luther King or Albert Einstein or Marie Curie or (insert your favourite inspirational person here). But that doesn't mean you can't contribute to the betterment of the world, and build a legacy in the process, by close-up focusing on those close to you.

Perfect example is a project my influential friend has been working on while flying around the world this past year. He's committed to write a book specifically for his children: a no-holds-barred, warts-and-all outpouring of emotion and advice and guidance and love. His audience for said book can be counted on one hand, with the thumb hidden.

He said the book project was inspired by his own father dying when he was barely out of his teens, and recently realizing that he had forgotten the sound of his father's voice. He vowed never to let that happen to his own kids...hence the book. They don't know it yet, but it'll be a special Xmas present this year.

So no airports or bridges or dams or centres or engraved cement blocks for my influential friend.

But one hell of a legacy he'll leave behind.

A truly unforgettable one that really matters.

To those that really matter.

So, although I hate to end blog posts like this...what will you do to solidify your legacy?

Some very special people are waiting to find out.