How to Change a Life in Seven Minutes -
Someone (possibly Jose Marti, the Cuban poet and revolutionary) once said that in order to leave a lasting legacy, there are three things we need to accomplish in life: have a child, plant a tree and write a book. Having recently published a novel as an eBook, Exuberance, I have been reflecting about the legacy and impact that our words have on others; and not just the words written in books.
I was a toastmaster for several years and have enjoyed writing and delivering dozens of speeches. But I have especially benefited from hearing many moving, inspirational, hilarious and entertaining seven-minute speeches at my local club, and in wider events and contests. I wrote about some of these in a another blog entry, “Ordinary people, extraordinary wisdom”. But I wanted to share an example that I found particularly relevant to the topic of legacy.
A few years ago I heard toastmaster Andrew Host tell, in seven minutes, the story of how his wife Julie woke up one morning with a headache, and how, a few days later, she was dead of a brain tumour. But the rest of the story was not about the devastation, grief and shock that Julie's sudden death caused him and his family. It was about the hope and the consolation they found afterwards, thanks to the fact that Julie was an organ donor. Even though nothing could bring her back to life, other people went on living thanks to her. He spoke about the importance of discussing your organ donor wishes with your family – did you know that in Australia, when confronted with the sudden death of a loved one, less than 60% of families give consent for organ and tissue donation to proceed, even if the person was listed as an organ donor?
That speech was solely responsible for the fact that I became and organ donor within weeks of hearing it. Becoming a donor was one of those things that I could never make up my mind about; but I can now say that that speech effectively changed not just the course of one, but a number of lives. The lives of people who didn’t even hear the speech; of people who were not even born when the speech was delivered: the people who will benefit from my organs after I die, because one organ and tissue donor can transform the lives of up to ten people.
The gift of life and hope to others: how is that for a legacy?
There are many other ways in which our words and stories can reach, impact and transform an audience. Sometimes it’s on a one-on-one conversation; other times a public talk or a classroom lecture. Although books have the ability to reach a greater public, these days a message can potentially spread to an audience of millions through social media.
So the next time that you sit down to compose a speech, a blog entry, a story, or even a tweet, think about the effect that your words will have on your audience. Think about the message you want to leave to others – think about legacy.
And if you have had a child and have planted a tree, don’t give up on the book as yet. You must believe in your power as a storyteller – and you must know that whether it’s a book or a speech, whether it’s a blog or a tweet, whether it’s humorous or inspirational, whether it’s cheerful or tragic, your story is part of your legacy.