By Joeel A. Rivera, M.Ed.
I remember when I was around 12 years old, I was sitting at a family reunion with my cousin, and soul brother, Daniel. We were observing about one hundred of our relatives and telling each other how one day we would do great things because we would be representing our Rivera family and would honor everything that they had done to get to where they are. It may be weird for a preteen to think that way, but our family had instilled in us a strong sense of identity by sharing their history with us. Don’t get me wrong, I still veered from that perspective as I became a teenager and got involved with the wrong crowd. For a short time in my life, I chose the streets over my earlier perspective of one day leaving a legacy.
Luckily, that seed of identity that was planted in me as a child had a power that I could not shake. You see, growing up I heard the stories of my dad and his 12 siblings growing up in the mountains of Puerto Rico in a two bedroom hut without running water or electricity, and beds where made out of hay. They grew up almost as natives, yet each sibling made the hike down the mountain to attend school, later attending college—most of them achieving advanced degrees. On the other hand, I had heard about my mom growing up part of her life in an orphanage and everything that she had to overcome to be the loving, successful woman she is today. My parents were my role models, and they did not use their challenges as excuses, they saw them as blessings and learning experiences. Because of them, even when I strayed or felt my life was difficult or unfair, the seed remained fertile.
If they can do it, I have no excuse.
Even with strong influences, like many of us I started to make excuses and lost myself in the identity that society told me I should be. I looked at what society said youth were like, what Hispanic males were supposed to act and be like, what relationships where supposed to look like, what my career path should look like; practically every aspect of my life was driven by what others and society told me that I was. The hardest part was that most of the people around me where so influenced themselves that it was hard to see outside of society’s programming. It just seemed normal.
It’s so easy to get busy in our daily lives, distracted by cultural influences, and never stop to reflect and ask “who am I, what do I stand for and what is my legacy.”
Luckily for me, I fell flat on my face enough times to wake me up. Experiences like my soul brother Daniel’s death, an almost fatal car accident and being debilitatingly sick for half a year pushed me to reflect and ask myself those questions. It made me consider “Do I want to live like this for the rest of my life?” “Will I let this situation define me or will I allow it to awaken me—to inspire me to reflect on what aspects of ME I want to keep and what do I want to change?”
Each time, when faced with challenges, I have continued to choose to change—to more fully live in alignment with my legacy.
Create a success identity based on strength:
One of the best things you can do to create your legacy is to change your identity by taking a new perspective of your past. Start by focusing on parts of your past that you believe demonstrate the best in you. Rather than looking at your past and focusing on all the things that went wrong, choose to see all the times that you demonstrate strength, courage, happiness, gratitude, and contribution. Where mistakes were made, look at how you overcame and learned and grew. Where you may have once seen curses, begin to look for the blessings contained within the experience. Write down these powerful testaments to your higher self. Then, when the seed of doubt—the unwanted identity you’ve been told limits you—creeps up on you, go back to this powerful list that will remind you of your greatness. Read this list every day, and allow those experiences to redefine your identity. For example, when I was severely sick for several months, I reflected on the other times of my life when I had overcome a body that was not in alignment. After my car accident at 20 the doctors told me I would not be able to walk after the age of 30. However, six months after the accident I was playing basketball and walking several miles a day, and now beyond 30, I am mobile and active and healthy. I had healed my body, against the expectations of my doctors, by looking at the small victories, celebrating even small progress, and in the times needed more encouragement, I looked back at how I had overcome my brother’s death and found a way to thrive.
I created an identity that I could do and overcome anything that I put my mind to.
Find purpose within your pain and rewrite your story of success:
Take time in reflection to look at the big challenges you have overcome. Reflect on what you learned from that experience and how can you use it as a tool to give you purpose and to help others. Did the experience awaken you to a deeper par tof yourself, of life? Did it trigger gratitude and appreciation for your opportunities, health or family? Can you pay your lessons forward and make an impact on someone else’s life who is going through what you went through?
It is not until we find purpose to our biggest pain that we can truly find meaning to our past.
It does not mean that you have to sit and dwell on the past, it just means that you can use it as a tool and a driving force in your journey.
Remember your true self by overcoming pressure to conform:
One of the best things that I did in my life, that helped me find my true self, was taking some time for myself. I spent several months ALONE. I dared to go to the beach, the movies, the park or out to dinner with only the company of me. Without the noise of outside influence, I got to know my inner voice. I started to understand what things I wanted to keep in my life and what things I wanted to get rid of. I also stopped watching T.V. and listening to the radio. It may seem extreme, but I wanted to make sure that the main influencing factor in my journey was me.
I started to listen to inspirational audio books that I felt called to me and would help me grow and develop into the person I was becoming.
It’s not that outside influence is bad, it’s that we must be cautious to choose the influence we want.
Don’t get me wrong, being along was challenging because it was lonely at first. And, imagine if you just met some one and all of a sudden you were stuck with them every single minute of the day. Well, that’s how it felt as I peeled off the layers that I had allowed others to create and sat there face to face with myself. I had to be real with myself about things that I did not like about me and things that I really appreciated about myself. Another challenge was that everyone questioned me for spending all that time by myself, and many people tried to influence me to do what they thought I should be doing. But I was committed to finding my inner voice, and I did. I found the strength to stand up for what I what I wanted out of life without having to make excuses or apologize for it.
Create a vision for your life:
I find it interesting that as a child I when would tell people I was going to travel to space, travel around the world or own an island they would encourage it by smiling and saying “I am sure you will.” Yet, as an adult, when I say something like that people look at me like I am crazy and place seeds of doubts. They may even grin and think to themselves “yea right buddy.”
By adulthood, most people stop dreaming big and in turn do not want others to go for big dreams either because it threatens their belief that dreams are simply an illusion or fantasy.
This is why it is so important of find our own voice and create our own vision of what we want out of life—and make it BIG, so that unlike everyone else we have something worth getting excited about. As you go on your journey, envision your dream and keep refining it until you can see the picture clearer. You do not have to know how or when it will come to be—just keep taking the next step and inspired action will continue to unfold. Keep your eyes on your dream and never let go because others tell you it’s not practical or realistic. As you continue forward, you will find that doors will open—you only have to be willing to walk through them.
Embrace the REAL you by breaking free of old patterns and roles:
To truly be able to able to achieve your vision, you have to ask yourself “What kind of person do I have to become? What kind of patterns do I have to let go? What roles do I have to take on and which ones do I have to release?”
You should not ask for your life to be easier, you should ask to be better because as you are better the things that seem challenging become easier.
It is only challenging because you have not developed the tools yet to make it easy. So, ask yourself “What do I have to study? What habits do I need to create? What changes do you need to make? What kind of people do I need to surround myself with?” Remember that the person you think you need to be will continually change as you become the person as you continue to grow. I have heard many times “you are either growing or dying.” Therefore, if you are not striving for anything you are in decline. This can be seen in people that retire. Statistically, people that retire do not live long after retirement because life becomes stagnant when they do not find purpose and direction in their retirement.
Those who retire and do find purpose to strive for—a legacy—live longer, more fulfilling lives.
Discover your greater purpose:
Many studies show that being happy is in large part determined by living a life of greater purpose and meaning. This purpose can be simple, such as feeling that you are contributing to your family, or it can be a large one, such as touching the lives of millions of people. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to define what that purpose, or dream, is for you—at every stage of your life. Regardless of what path you choose to follow or dream you choose to inspire your purpose, remember that all this world needs you to be is authentically you. If you want to create a better life for yourself and others, embrace the true you—and there you will find the greater purpose that you were put on this world to be.
By living your personal legacy you will inspires others to do the same.