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Defining My Legacy
More than Epitaphs on Our Tombstones
After I finished my internal medicine residency training in the US, I was grateful to be offered a faculty position. During the first year as a junior faculty, I attended our department annual retreat. The retreat was at a beautiful state park about an hour and a half drive from Chattanooga.
The retreat was facilitated by an external facilitator with a theme of “Physician Heal Thyself.” The very title shows the foresight of our department leader. This was 1999. One of the first exercises invited us to reflect on what we would like to be written on our tombstones. This being my third residency training, I was already in my mid 30s and a mother of two young children. Yet this prompt, frankly speaking, seemed macabre—especially as an introductory session of the retreat related to physician heal thyself!
The reflection was not easy. I spent time in personal thought. We were invited to share our reflection in groups of three. I still remember sharing how I wanted to be remembered—for being a kind, caring, helping, trusted and responsible human being.
Reflecting back on that experience years ago, I realize it planted seeds for continued introspection. What will be my legacy?
Through introspection I have come to realize that we do not have a choice if we will leave a legacy or not, the very fact that we are born, we will. However, the important thing is that we do have a choice of what kind of legacy we want to leave.
In my post at the end of 2022, I shared my thoughts on what it means to remain relevant. For me, legacy is also related to when I feel that I am truly living a life of meaning. Living life requires me to strive each day to fulfill my purpose with an intentionality and to the best of my ability.
Identifying my purpose and pursuing it is an ongoing journey. This purpose comes with an intentional attempt to understand my own core values, what I value and how I value all my relationships, those in my inner and larger circle. I value all the many ways of being with close family and friends and then all who I come in contact with, all living and nonliving beings, humanity and mother earth as a whole.
My core values are impacted by many experiences, especially my upbringing and seeing my grandparents and parents, my teachers, close family and friends, how they conducted and lived their lives, their teachings and our conversations.
My core values are also impacted by my own learnings, errors and experiences. I have come to accept that I am human, who will make mistakes and mess up. I need to define each day with my core values, not my desires. I need to acknowledge that all I can do is my best, learn from these mistakes and strive to do better, I am a human!
While the focus of my core values may change with my season of life, these are foundational to who I am, how I live for and with others in this world. My core belief values reflect and impact my actions. My core values are my Dharma.
Thinking back to 1999 and still today, I would like to be remembered as a kind, caring, helping, trusted and responsible human being. I would add service, self-compassion and gratitude. I feel most fulfilled and filled with joy when I am living for and serving others, for a greater good.
I am profoundly grateful to so many without whom I would not be who I am today. I am grateful for being invited to think about my legacy at an early season in my life. I truly believe that reflecting on what kind of legacy I want to leave has allowed me to continue to strive to live a life that aligns with what gives me meaning and purpose. It has allowed me to be intentional to co-create safe and brave spaces for others to reflect on the same.
Being intentional to live a life of meaning and purpose helps me stay relevant and will help define my legacy.
Part of my legacy, I say with humility, is sharing my story to encourage others to think about their own, particularly for other women in healthcare. This month is the 3rd birthday of my memoir, Resilient Threads: Weaving Joy and Meaning into Well-Being, and this celebration coincides with National Women Physician’s Day. Below I’m listing a few books I recommend for the women physicians and medical students.
February 3rd is the fourth National Women Physicians Day and 200th birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell, a pioneer of medical and feminist history who became the first woman to earn an M.D. degree from an American medical school in 1849 (and one of the first in the world). Her story is told in Women in White Coats: How the First Women Doctors Changed the World of Medicine by Olivia Campbell. I also recommend:
What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear by Danielle Ofri
As 2023 unfolds, how do you tend to well-being, community and resilience? I will post reflections on these themes and invite you to join in the conversation here or on Twitter or Instagram with your thoughts or what you are doing for self-care and care of others. My book explores such ideas too: Resilient Threads: Weaving Joy and Meaning into Well-Being.
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