Living the Dash


Today I want to discuss another insight I gleamed from the leadership development program I attended a couple weeks ago.  One morning we had a speaker talk to us about the concept of leaving a legacy, and although what he had to say was relevant for a good many aspects of my life, it spoke to me most when I thought about my writing.

He told us that each of us has no control over the beginning point of our lives, and limited control of the end, but it’s that period in between…the dash that represents what happens during your lifetime…that ultimately determines how you will be remembered.  I was asked that morning what I wanted to be most remembered for.  I thought for a moment, then chuckled before answering, “Honestly, I’d be thrilled to be remembered at all.”

My playful, but honest reply aside, I started seriously considering the question more and more until I became aware of something.  But first I need to share a quote I’m fond of so you might understand my realization better.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

-        Maya Angelou    

There’s not a single author, playwright or poet who hasn’t been asked at one time or another…why did you become a writer?   What I had suddenly grasped was that I started writing again in order to leave a mark.  That through my words, my stories and the feelings they elicited, I could do what my introverted personality would never allow me to do, affect people.   I would bet my bottom dollar that a great many of you feel the same way.  It’s not about the money, or the notoriety, or even scratching an itch.  I write and put my thoughts out there, whether it be via this blog or ultimately a published book, because I’ve learned they can touch emotions.  Evoking smiles or drawing out a tear, all the while telling an engaging story, is my goal and what I’d like to be remembered for.

For certain, this isn’t the only legacy I hope to leave behind.  A family with sound roots and a promising future, friends with nothing but positive memories of me, and maybe even an empty Netflix queue, are just a few.  But the possibility that long after I’m dust a book (or two…or three…or…) might be pulled down off a shelf, or downloaded into a e-reader, just waiting to suck that person into my world for a short time, is a powerful motivator.

So, with this post and everything else I’m doing with my writing, I’m living part of my dash.  And guess what…now you’re part of that.

Are you living your dash?

35 comments

  1. All of a sudden, it seems unfair that people's lives are represented by a dash on their tombstone, when the two things they could not control (birth and death) get top billing. Of course, there are sometimes other words there, as you show us: father, beloved wife, daughter, etc. But still.

    I'm going to look differently at tombstones now.

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  2. I'm finally living the dash...my 'm' dash because it's longer then the regular dash. I'm living in the tropics where I've always wanted to. I write everyday and proudly say, 'I'm a writer. And I write humorous women's fiction to make people laugh.

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  3. Remembered for how we made people feel...
    While I can leave a legacy of two books (maybe three) that's really not what's most important to me. That quote really sums up what I want to leave behind.

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  4. I hope I'm living my dash through my writing. What a powerful post, DL.

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  5. Oh, DL, this is such a powerful powerful post. I am so trying to live my dash. With my singing group, I know I am making a difference. But I am so very stuck not able to write a single word right now on my novel. I love what you've said here and I want you to know this blog of yours is leaving a very positive mark.
    Karen

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  6. There's a whole life in that tiny dash and I intend to live it to the fullest! :)

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  7. Every day. It is the 'touching people for good' that counts, no matter how.

    'Because, in the end, the love you make, is the love you take."

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  8. It's a little creepy that you created your own tombstone ... just sayin'. :) I think the legacy we want to leave is different depending on who we are talking about. I want my family to remember me for who I was, but I wouldn't mind if the general masses actually knew me for my writing.

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  9. Well that tombstone freaked me out!

    I hope I'm living the dash. I certainly try to!

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  10. This is a really great life lesson post. I'm sure I will think about this throughout the day and the rest of the week, figuring out what I want to be known for when I leave.

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  11. Don - Please take that picture down. It's just too eerie and you don't really want to tempt the universe with something like that.

    And Yes, I've been living my dash for about 20 years now. I just don't know how many people will actually get it though.

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  12. I thought this was beautiful. ;) Such a great message, DL. And clever. So glad you shared!

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  13. I have heard other references to living the dash, but yours was very well put. I think you are living the dash rather nicely :)

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  14. Awww, Niiice! I have always loved that Maya Angelou quote. Thanks for letting me be part of your dash!

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  15. Wonderful post, Don! I tell ya in all seriousness -- if for some reason "mystery writer" never clicks (God forbid!), you could always touch a million lives as a fabulously successful "motivational writer!"

    You have a wonderful way of delivering a deep and powerful message in a emotionally compelling manner. You're real, engrossing, and effective.

    You're already living the dash, dude -- you're touching and impacting lives though this blog.

    >thumbs-up!<

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  16. Yes, I believe I'm living my dash too. And I love that quote from Maya Angelou.

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  17. Great post. Makes you think and very true.

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  18. 'living the dash' - absolutely love that.

    It really all does come down to our emotions, doesn't it? Our heart flows onto the page and we let others in to share. And we hope our heart lives on. And on.

    Beautifully said, DL :)

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  19. I love this phrase, "living your dash." It's perfect for this thing we call life. Sometimes the dash is hard. And sometimes it's easy. But yes, people will remember how you made them feel. It's why people should lean toward forgiveness and kindness. It's why I teach, and why I try to remind myself that everyone has a story I don't know.

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  20. I've never heard that expression, and man, it's kind of a sock in the gut. Genius. I'm with Dianne on the whole "gonna look at tombstones differently" thing -- and with Chris on the idea that maybe you should consider motivational speaking. Loved how earnest & concise this was without being cliche or preachy.

    And I'm trying, hard and scary as it is not to cave in to getting a "real" job (as opposed to creative work, which is, apparently, an imaginary job) or worry about whether I'm gonna be able to afford retirement or other obnoxious, practical, dash-stifling conceptions...things like this post sure do hope, though.

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  21. Writing forces me to get out there and live my dash. Sounds like a weird thing to say, but I write nonfiction and I've got social anxiety that wants me to stay put and safe. I have a lot of gratitude towards words.

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  22. I've heard the story of "The Dash" before, and I really like that sentiment. It definitely applies to how I approach writing and life overall. Nice post!

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  23. I'm trying to live my dash now. Most of my life I've been too busy just living to think about legacy and the main legacy I've left is through and for my kids, which is pretty important I guess. Now I'm trying to leave a legacy through what I write. Hopefully I provide some positive feelings for some people sometimes.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  24. Saying that people will remember how you made them feel is sentimental hogwash. They remember the impact you made on their life. That impact may not leave a single real note about who you were as a person. The person fades. It's what that person did that endures. The dash is what you did, not who you were. People blur this enough in life, dismissing reality in favor of what's convenient. The dash is about eliminating the convenience, eliminating the person. The dash is the universal quality of human existence, what anyone will recognize. The dash makes no cultural or ethnic or religious distinctions, because in the end all those things are transient, no matter how important they were in life. What is human nature? Eliminate the petty and all you have the dash.

    I could go on.

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  25. I disagree with the Scouring Monk about the quote being sentimental hogwash. And I think he contradicts himself in the second sentence. What is impact if not how you affect people? By making others happy or comfortable in your presence, you definitely have an impact on their lives and yours a well. So here's to some wonderful dashes. Namaste

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  26. I love that quote by Maya Angelou - and you've added a few other awesome quotes all around it. Long live the dash!

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  27. Wonderful food for thought...I think I am. I feel like I'm on the right path, anyway :)

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  28. I would be thrilled just to be remembered too.

    I'm working on living my dash. I'm not sure it would make it to my tombstone. I want to be remember for more than donating to my favorite charities that make a difference in a child's or teen's life. I want to be directly responsible for making a difference through my books. :)

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  29. Eloquently said. I started thinking of the dash and my legacy a while ago. I'm still working on it. :)

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  30. wow, great post DL. And I'm working on it, too.

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  31. What a lovely way to phrase that. It's true - my favourite books have affected me emotionally and enriched my life as well. Imagine if I could turn around and do that for readers?

    I love having creative outlets while in the dash!

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  32. I've read these words of Angelous before, but I'm not sure I ever thought about how true they are in my writing (and the whole idea of leaving a legacy). For me, the story is king, of course, but even more important to me is the potential to make a reader feel with that story. There's a lot of power in that.

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  33. I had a similar ah-ha moment last week. You've inspired me to blog about it. Thanks!

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  34. Great quote, and a wise woman. I admit that my writing is just meant to entertain, for the most part, but I hope that I make people feel in positive ways in my day-to-day life and, sometimes, through my blogging.

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  35. And Elle's post about your post inspired me, in turn, and sent me over here to read yours.

    Thank you for posting this. You're touching lives.

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