The Legacy of the Hamster Wheel


by Elizabeth Mansfield
CEO, Building Legacies International

I was 40 (almost ten years ago) when I consciously chose to get off the proverbial hamster wheel. My mother died of cancer that year and I had watched her work herself to death most of my life.

You know what I mean, right? It’s the day-to-day grind many of us remain stuck in, in order to bring home the bacon and pay the bills. But I’d challenge traditional thinking by asking, “Which came first, the income or the bills”? Had she only chose to lead a simpler life, she may still be here with me. And maybe even meet her grandchildren someday.

Now, I’m not saying that stress or her work directly caused her death but I guarantee in her case, it contributed. Nor am I suggesting we all stop working. But when I think about her legacy, I realize how much she sacrificed so I could have a better life. Yet, I would gladly sacrifice her definition of “a better life” if I could have her back.

The other day when I was complaining about going to the gym, a friend reminded that the work-out is easy – it’s the getting there that’s hard. And it’s true – once you get yourself to the gym or you’re dressed for the run, the actual work-out is not so bad. In fact, by then it’s already become rewarding because you’ve intentionally committed to do something good for yourself.

I’d suggest that’s pretty true about life in general. Take personal development, for example. It’s something you know you probably should devote some time toward but there are many excuses for putting it off. However, once you’ve committed, it can be life-changing.

Wikipedia describes personal development as, “…activities that improve awareness and identity, develop talents and potential… …enhance the quality of life and contribute to the realization of dreams and aspirations.”

Sign me up! Who doesn’t want to improve or enhance the quality of their life, right? But then comes the, “I’m just too busy right now” excuse. Could that be just an excuse steeped in fear of change?

Speaking from experience, I all too often waited until something major happened before getting serious about making a change. What could life look like if we were intentional before any imbalance arises?

I’ve learned a ton of things about myself in hindsight – but what a waste of precious time that was. The sooner we come to some acknowledgement of our truths and start being intentionally self-aware, the less likely we are to have regrets.

Have you given any thought toward the legacy you’re already leaving? How will you be known when you leave the world? What would your eulogy sound like… “She was a really hard worker”? Or could it sound a little different? The choice is yours.