One of the side-effects of funerals is that people consider anew their own lives, and what legacy they might leave to their children, friends, and community. Such sober ponderings lead me to re-evaluate exactly what I mean when I say I wish to be “successful.”
As I get older I spend more time than I should in self-immolation based on my failure to be as successful as a younger self might have expected. I’m not as well-published, my job is not as lucrative, my finances are not as secure as I’d like, I’m not as well-travelled as I wish I were . . . really, the list just goes on and on. But when I saw the number of people, and the variety of people who came out to pay their last respects to my father-in-law I really had to rethink my definition of success. So many former colleagues, students, and co-workers of every stripe came, some from great distances, to pay respect to their friend and colleague.
Frank X. Williams was never rich, nor famous, but the work of his life wove a tapestry of love and caring that affected virtually everyone he came in contact with. At the end of his life, hundreds of people were directly impacted, and perhaps thousands more indirectly. Frank made the world a richer place, not through his income or his fame, not through sales or economics, but through his own rich being. The world became a much better place because Frank Williams was in it.
Thinking of his example, I realize that I am rich in family, with three wonderful children, a loving wife, and many friends who support and care for me, and in turn rely on me for support and care. While I lambasted myself for not fulfilling my economic goals, I remained mostly unaware of the real value of the investments I made in friends and family. But in the end, we are social creatures, and economics are really just an artifice, another way of organizing social connections through stuff.
I returned from Michigan with a new perspective on my life thus far, and perhaps a new benchmark by which to measure my success. I hope to be more conscious of how I invest my time and energy and to track my investments a little differently than before, with a clearer vision of what sort of legacy I'm building.