Marcus Aurelius’ works and memory lives on. So does Seneca’s. So do many great artists and inventors. That’s great, right? For us. It doesn’t do them much good.
Does it really mean anything to Alexander the Great that Alexandria still bears his name? Do you think George Washington is able to feel pride that D.C. remains? Of course not.
When we had Camila Cabello, one of the most popular musicians in the world, on the Daily Stoic podcast, she recounted some advice that she’d gotten from her mentor. Legacy is not for you, she learned, legacy is for everyone else.
And this makes sense. Marcus Aurelius noted that he wouldn’t be around to enjoy posthumous fame. Nobody will be. Legacy then should be seen only as the incidental byproduct of a great life. If your art, your work, your organization’s endure, if one of Camilla’s songs still holds up a hundred years from now—great. But that’s extra. And it’s not for you at that point. It’ll be everyone else’s blessing or in the case of bad legacy, their curse.
Only right now matters. The life you’re living—that’s the only monument that counts. Who you are in this moment, how you treat people, how you treat yourself—that is the real legacy. And it’s passing you by as you read this.