Not too far from our office, a 400-year-old bonsai tree grows in the National Arboretum. What’s remarkable about this tree is not its age, nor its beauty. The most incredible thing about the tree is its legacy. Every day since 1625, someone has lovingly cared for this tree, watering and pruning it, regardless of the hardships they’ve encountered.
The Yamaki family in Japan cared for the tree until August 6, 1945 when its roots were rocked by an American bomber dropping the atomic bomb which scorched the earth of Hiroshima, killing hundreds of thousands of people. The bonsai only escaped obliteration because the garden wall blocked the atomic flash and the shockwave that followed. A member of the family rescued the beloved bonsai from the firestorm that engulfed the city.
In 1976, the tree was given to the United States as a gift from Japan to celebrate America’s bicentennial. At one point a few years later, the bonsai master Masaru Yamaki who had donated the tree, came to visit the National Arboretum and became immediately emotional upon seeing the tree, remarking through his tears, “the tree is happy here.”
It took generations to nurture and grow this bonsai. Those who protected and nurtured the tree over time are mostly nameless, yet their legacy lives on in the tree, which has become a symbol of peace and resilience.
This story teaches us that legacy is not all about being remembered or even recognized. History didn’t record and acknowledge who cared for this tree over the centuries. Yet, the passion and dedication of those people shows up in every leaf and root of the tree today.
So, what will your legacy be? We all hope that our life matters. It is only human to want to be remembered and recognized. Legacy evokes a sense of pride and joy, of accomplishment and purpose. Our true meaning comes not just from working toward something, but also from giving something away.
We need to remember that we are building a legacy by every choice we make. Only you can be the author of your life and be your own story. Your legacy is a work in progress. Conscious people see life in context and know what’s important. They are leaving a legacy every moment, in every interaction, every day, to actively create a new and better world.
Your legacy can be short-lived or far-reaching: personally, with family and friends and across generations; professionally, with colleagues and even entire industries; locally within your community and globally in the greater world. It’s up to you to carve a legacy not in stone but in the hearts and minds of the people you have touched.
Remember that the first person in 1625 who cared for the Hiroshima bonsai could never have imagined its significance hundreds of years later and half a world away. They just did what they knew as a gardener was right: water the plant, prune the leaves, and love the tree.
Leave a Legacy is part of the Step Up practice in our book CONSCIOUS: The Power of Awareness in Business and Life. The other practices are Go Deep, Think Big, and Get Real.
At Healthy Companies, we believe that growth and success lie at the intersection of the personal and the business dimensions of organizational life. Our missionis to help CEO’s and executive teams build healthy, high performing companies through our consulting services, executive coaching and learning solutions.