How Can I Think Wisely About My Legacy?

By Uli Chi

May 3, 2024

Article, De Pree Journal

When I was a child, I enjoyed visual puzzles. One involved numbered dots on a piece of paper. By connecting the dots in order, an image slowly emerged. You couldn’t tell from the dots alone what the picture looked like. You had to draw lines connecting the dots to see the underlying image. Solving the puzzle resulted in the delight of seeing a picture come to life from a seemingly random set of points.

I thought of this childhood puzzle in connection with a critical challenge of the third third of life: Thinking wisely about legacy.

For much of my life, the main events were living and working. From my early 20s to my late 50s, I was engrossed in raising a family, building businesses, volunteering in my local congregation, and serving other nonprofit organizations. My days were filled with activities, many of which were meaningful in their own right. However, it wasn’t always clear how these ‘dots’ in my life were connected. Unlike my childhood visual puzzle, there was no easy numbering scheme to help me connect them meaningfully!

In the third third of life, we have the opportunity to step back and look at the experiential dots of our lives and try to make sense of them. We have the time and space to see what kind of picture they make. But the challenge is that we need a way to connect the dots. The biblical response to that challenge is to offer us the lens of wisdom. That is one of the reasons I wrote my book, The Wise Leader.

Wisdom Helps Us Make Sense of Our Lives

The lens of wisdom offers a rich framework for making sense of our lives. Wisdom doesn’t answer every question—in fact, it raises far more questions than it answers. However, wisdom enables us to see meaning and purpose where we otherwise might see only randomness and chaos. Wisdom responds to the quest for meaning and purpose deeply embedded in our humanity.

Wisdom enables us to see meaning and purpose where we otherwise might see only randomness and chaos.

Practically, wisdom allows us to interpret the pieces of our lived experience. It helps us shape a narrative about our legacy—who we are and why we are here—that can be shared and passed on to another generation. As leaders, we all care about the legacy we leave behind. The lens of wisdom allows us to articulate and pass on that legacy to those we care about. That, too, is one of the reasons I wrote my book.

Reflecting on Your Life through the Lens of Wisdom

Of course, you don’t have to do what I did and write a book to pass on wisdom to those you love. Instead, reflecting on your life through the lens of biblical wisdom is what matters most. I hope The Wise Leader will provide you with a helpful place to start and ongoing encouragement for your reflective journey. In writing my book, three practices emerged for doing that reflective work that you might find helpful.

Mine Your Experience

First, look back and explore your family and work history. When I turned sixty, a wise friend suggested I needed to “mine” my experience. That’s a helpful metaphor: to see our long history as a treasure we need to excavate and sift through. It takes time and effort. You may want help from family, friends, and former work colleagues. It’s easy to forget the details of our lives, many of which have unrealized significance. As the poet T.S. Eliot once wrote, it’s possible that “we had the experience but missed the meaning.” The third third of life is a chance to recover the meaning of our lived experience and history.

Develop Your Imagination

Second, develop your imagination through immersing yourself in great writing and art. That includes thoughtful biblical and theological writings. We live in an age with abundant, thoughtful Christian resources that you don’t have to be a scholar to appreciate and benefit from. I hope The Wise Leader provides one such accessible example; the resources of the De Pree Center, including its third third offerings, are another. And don’t limit yourself to explicitly Christian writings. Explore great novels, poetry, art, and music. As I argue in my chapter about wisdom and imagination that we live in a highly rationalistic age that engages only part of our human capacity. Developing our imaginative faculties helps us see connections (and connect the dots) in ways rational thought alone misses.

Often, our lives and experiences appear to be fragmented and disconnected. We seem to live different lives in different contexts: at home, in our jobs, where we volunteer at our favorite charities, and when we serve in our churches. On the surface (and perhaps from a purely rational point of view), these seem to have no connection with one another. But through the wisdom of a biblical imagination, we can see these as part of the same tapestry. In my experience, reading poetry has been especially helpful in developing my creative capacity to see relationships between and meaning in disparate parts of my life. Poetry does this by challenging us to make surprising connections between words and ideas that, at first glance, seem unrelated and even contradictory.

Involve Others

Finally, involve others as you seek to discern the significance of your life and legacy. Wisdom is fundamentally a communal experience. No one is truly wise on their own. So, it shouldn’t surprise you that you must process your journey with others. If you don’t already have a small group of friends to engage with, find those who might be interested. Ask others to pray for and with you as you do this work. And talk with those from a generation or two younger than you about what you are thinking and learning. As I did, you will find many who will be happy to help you in your reflective journey.

Wisdom is fundamentally a communal experience. No one is truly wise on their own.

My book grew out of a class that I taught for Regent College in Vancouver. That experience allowed me to research and read, reflect and write, and process my journey with thoughtful leaders worldwide—leaders who spanned the spectrum of vocations, ages, genders, and ethnicities. It was invaluable in helping me develop a framework of biblical wisdom and articulate my own experience in a way that was helpful to others. Of course, you don’t have to teach a class, much less write a book to involve others in your journey. But everyone can find interested conversation partners to help them connect the dots. If you are finding that difficult, you might want to join one of the De Pree Center’s third third cohorts to find others who are wrestling with the same challenges.

You are God’s Unique Handiwork

Eugene Peterson, one of my spiritual mentors who taught at Regent, once said there are no expert Christians. By that, he meant that each Christian’s life and experience is a unique occasion for God’s gracious work. No one else has the expertise to tell you exactly how to be you or to make sense of the life you’ve been given. Paying attention to God’s work in your life by paying attention to your lived experience is your particular responsibility. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “We are God’s handiwork” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV). By doing the careful work of reflection and discernment in the third third season of life, we can discover the outlines of the meaning and legacy of God’s handiwork in our lives. And seeing our legacy in the context of God’s handiwork is what gives ultimate meaning to our lives.

Uli Chi

Board Member, Senior Fellow, Affiliate Professor

Dr. Uli Chi’s career is a testament to his unique approach to leadership. He has navigated the realms of for-profit businesses, nonprofit organizations, the theological academy, and the local church, gleaning a wealth of wisdom from each. As an award-winning technological entrepreneur, h...

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