Start at the End: Leaving a Memorable Legacy

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My mom often laments that when we were kids, she yelled too much or didn’t get down on the floor and play with us enough, but I have no memory of that. I remember that she almost always had a great snack waiting for us after school and that she never, ever missed a basketball game or school assembly. She was even our Girl Scout Troup leader.

Now, as a mother myself, I often think about my own legacy, and I’ve realized I don’t want my children to remember me only sitting in front of a computer – just a face turned toward a screen working. The time with our babies is short, and if I want the memories my children will someday cherish to be of me completely connected, then I don’t have the luxury of spending my days chasing the elusive and the temporary, a.k.a. posting to Facebook.

Which is one of the reasons I am about to brave a 22-hour Amtrak train ride from Dallas to Chicago – to be connected and to create memories.

It’s hard for many of us to think about our own mortality, but the truth is that if we want to create a lasting legacy for our children, we must begin at the end of our lives.

When I am gone from this planet, and my children are reflecting and remembering me, what do I hope will be their most powerful memories of the time we had together? What do I want written about me in my obituary? What are the stories, memories and influences I hope to leave behind for my children’s children and others for whom I hope to have influenced?

As we consider our legacy, we must evaluate who we are and what we are doing now that either contributes to or takes away from building that legacy, no matter how painful that may be.

For example, if I hope to pass on my love for literature, then I need to create an environment that cultivates a love of reading. Trips to the library and family reading times are just two things I can intentionally plan to contribute to a legacy honoring the love of reading.

As parents we can dream, plan and act on all of the things that we want our children to remember about us – or not. We are building a legacy every day, whether or not we are intentional about it.

Even the smallest, most seemingly insignificant or even boring things are the things our children will remember long after we are gone. Bike rides, making homemade pizza, singing loudly with “X Factor” contestants, packing for a trip and shooting, hide-and-seek on rainy days and hopscotch on the sidewalk … these are a pivotal part of what we will leave behind.

That leads me to a woman who could teach us a thing or two about building a legacy.

She may not have children, but a generation and beyond were raised and experienced growth due her legacy – being the host of the most successful show in daytime television and creating a media empire.

“The Oprah Winfrey Show” came to an end on May 25, 2011 after 25 years on television. Arguably one of the most influential television personalities of all time, Ms. Winfrey and her show have had an impact on American culture that cannot be overstated.

In the new book, “The Oprah Winfrey Show: Reflections on an American Legacy” the full 25 years of The Oprah Winfrey Show are chronicled with unforgettable highlights and images, as well as essays about its indelible impact and most important themes by well-known individuals across a wide variety of areas and interests.

Maya Angelou, Ellen DeGeneres, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Julia Roberts, Toni Morrison, Maria Shriver, Dr. Phil McGraw, Dr. Mehmet Oz and John Travolta all contributed their thoughts to the book.

I got a chance to speak with Sheri Salata, the president of Harpo Studios, about the new book, highlights of the show’s 25 years, her favorite moments and the important cultural impact of the show.

“The Oprah Winfrey Show: Reflections on an American Legacy” is available in stores now.

Also, check out this week’s edition of “Mamas Gone Wild,” where Mary Boyce and I talk to an expert about how to create an on going system of establishing priorities in our lives so we have time to build that legacy.

Nikki Woods is senior producer of “The Tom Joyner Morning Show.” The author of “Easier Said Than Done,” the Dallas-based Woods is currently working on her second and third novels. You can friend her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter: @nikkiwoods.