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Vol 14|No 5|June|2018

What really matters?

by Jamie McKenzie (about author)

In recent months I have been working with people in their sixties and seventies who wish to create a memoir or autobiography that can be printed and shared with their friends and families.

It occurred to me that young people might also benefit from this thought process while looking at the decades to come rather than the ones that have passed.

couple on bench
Photo J.McKenzie

"The unexamined life is not worth living!'' is a famous dictum apparently uttered by Socrates at his trial. In that spirit, I provide my clients with a list of 37 questions, the answers to which become the basis for their memoirs.

In this article I will share a dozen of the questions most directly related to what might be called "legacy" -- the footprint or signature one leaves behind -- gifts to the world, moments of courage and meaning -- acts that somehow made life better.


What's it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?


Photo J.McKenzie

In creating a memoir, I ask my clients to answer the following questions that are especially pertinent when considering legacy:

Proudest moments

  • What were your proudest moments?
  • Were there times when you had to stand up and be counted?
  • Were there times that demanded courage from you?
  • Did you achieve your dreams?


  • Did you sometimes create something magical?
  • What was the toughest obstacle you had to overcome?
  • Did you invent new ways of doing things?
  • Did you alter the future for someone or for a group in a good way?
  • Were you able to see things coming and then act in ways that saved a lot of people?
  • What are the five or six most important things you accomplished with your life?
  • Are there several goals you still hope to achieve?

Lessons learned/Advice to the young

  • If you had one piece of advice to give to a grandchild or a great grandchild based on your life, what would it be?
  • What was the most important lesson you learned in life?
  • Did one of your own parents or family members give you advice when young that proved to be wise?
  • Do you have any regrets?
  • What two or three character traits served you best during your lifetime?

womn in cafe

How do you wish to be remembered?

As Robert Frost stated in his poem "The Road Not Taken" . . .
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
High school is a good time for students to look at the decades stretching out ahead of them and ask how they wish to be remembered when it is all said and done. It is this kind of mindful planning that may lead to wise decisions and a good life, though there are no guarantees, as circumstances and the luck of the draw may frustrate even the best of intentions.

Who am I in this world?
What kind of person shall I become?
How will I make my mark?
What are my dreams?

There are dozens of interesting resources on the Web to assist students with this thought process that can be found by doing a Google search for "write your own story" or "write your own epitaph" or "be the hero of your own story." Some of them are witty, some of them are cheesy, some of them are pathetic, and some of them are inspiring. It's up to the student to sort through them and find value.

Shall I become the life of the party? the best and loyal friend? the clown? the joker? the professor? the artist?

The rebel? the conformist? the heretic? the patriot? the traitor? the judge?

The good father/mother?

The hippie? the politician? the peacemaker? the bully? the loudmouth? the blowhard? the sage?

Food for thought!


The Great Report

  • Creates something new
  • Grapples with a big challenge
  • Explores the unknown
  • Shares insights and understandings that
    are perceptive and original
  • Awakens curiosity
  • Entertains, delights and illuminates

You can read sample chapters and see the list of chapters by clicking here.

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