By Mary Cucarola – 3/5/22

Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle. Some things are in your control. And some things are not.  ~Epictetus

Vladimir Putin and I have the same exact birthdate – month, day, and year.  We will both turn 70 years old on October 7th this year. Yep, look it up.

Legacy is something everyone thinks of when they are about to turn 70. They ask themselves what is my legacy going to be? What do I have left I want to do? Do I have time to do it?  I’ve been thinking about it often this year, and I’m not an important person – just a little old lady living in Colorado. But, 70 seems so old, and it definitely messes with your mind, good or bad, and motivates you to think about the future or lack thereof.

I’ve read news reports that say Putin wants to resurrect the old Soviet Union as his legacy and believes it’s his destiny to restore Russian dominance in the world. Of course, there are many awful scenarios playing out with his crazy idea, but the one I see as the most problematic is his legacy is not for him to determine, but for others to determine after he is long gone.

No one gets to enjoy their own legacy – by definition.  Sorry, Putin.

I’ve been reading Ryan Holiday’s books about stoicism, an ancient philosophy founded in Athens, Greece. It teaches the development of self-control as a means of overcoming destructive emotions among other philosophical thoughts, like a clear understanding that some things are in your control and some things are not. Epictetus was a Greek stoic philosopher influenced by Socrates.

It’s fascinating to read about stoicism because of my work with addiction and codependency, which is often about controlling destructive emotions and making a choice not to overreact to circumstances, whether good or bad. The stoics call this concept “reasoned choice” and I call it “neutrality’. Both are essentially the same.

I learned about the concept of neutrality from a codependency clinician during the family program in Cody’s first rehab at Harmony in Estes Park in 2008. It has stuck with me ever since and helped me cope with Cody’s ups and downs before he died, and with my ups and downs afterwards.

At that time, I was the poster child for overreacting to every circumstance without thinking and letting my emotions impact every area of my life, and every decision I made. Neither could I stay in my own lane to determine what was mine to control and what was not.

I made a lot of bad decisions back then, including drinking too much wine to cope with it all.

That’s the remarkable thing about learning new concepts – it helps you become a better, healthier person. That’s why reaching out for help is always a good idea. I guess it’s why I read all of the time – to find a new perspective and clarity about my life, past and present.  Writing helps me, too.

So, back to legacy.  In one of the writings from Ryan Holiday about stoicism, he talks about how legacy is not up to you, but up to others to decide after you are gone. Doing what you can in the here and now to make your life better and other people’s lives better is the kind of living legacy you can work on every day.

If I can make a positive difference in my life and for other people, then it will bring me joy in the present moment, not after I am dead.  Where happiness and freedom exist is in controlling what you can and not obsessing about what you can’t.

We are all feeling a bit helpless right now over things we can’t control – like Putin’s war. But we can make a donation, say a prayer, light a candle, read a book, go for a walk, listen to music, journal – anything but dwell on the pain of war we are seeing every day on social media or TV.  I donated to the World Kitchen yesterday, which is the organization run by Jose Andres feeding the Ukrainian refugees.  I pray for them every single night before I go to bed.

I have come to the conclusion that I love the idea about a living legacy.

Living my life in the here and now. Making my life better. Making other people’s lives better. Finding the joy around me. That’s all that really matters.  So simple, yet profound.

Forget about leaving a legacy that I don’t get to enjoy. That makes perfect sense to me.

Whew, glad that’s off my to do list.

Mary Cucarola – 3/5/22

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