The Only Metric of Success that Really Matters is the One We IgnoreSubmitted by Desmond Wealth Management, Inc. on March 22nd, 2019
By Jenny Anderson - March 12, 2019
On a blustery March day five years ago, I locked arms with my mother and walked into a church in Maplewood, New Jersey to bury my brother. Bagpipes played “Amazing Grace.” I remember shivering and worrying: that my dad would slip, my mom would collapse, and that I would botch the eulogy.
The church was packed. My brothers’ four daughters looked empty, absent; all eyes on them, no escape from the hell that was that moment. His wife’s pain and fear were palpable. When I stood up on the lectern and saw several hundred people, all of whom seemed to actually know my brother, I was humbled by the life he had created. He had designed exactly the life he wanted: running his own architecture firm in New York City, parenting four girls, belonging to a community that he had helped build, literally (by designing houses) and figuratively—by coaching lacrosse, talking to neighbors in the yard and strangers at the grocery store, and attending approximately two million children’s birthday parties.
In seeing his community, I became acutely aware of the feeling that I did not have my own. I had friends and a loving family. But as Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And I spent my days focused on optimizing myself: Endlessly working and improving, on a permanent quest to do as much as possible in the unforgiving confines of 24 hours. It was the only way I knew how to be. Compete. Excel. Win.
I had never considered there might be a cost to a life of high-octane, high-reward competition.
It is no secret that aging helps with perspective. Bill Gates, reflecting on his work last year, said that as a young man in his 20s, he was consumed with making Microsoft a personal-computing giant. Today, his focus is on other people: “Did I devote enough time to my family? Did I learn enough new things? Did I develop new friendships and deepen old ones? These would have been laughable to me when I was 25, but as I get older, they are much more meaningful.”
Before Robbie got sick, if you had asked me if community mattered, I would have said yes. But I wouldn’t have thought about it much. Nor would I have spent much time working out what it meant.
But after many nights in emergency rooms and too-long stays in hospitals, of watching my nieces slowly lose their father, I got a glimpse of what community looks like. It was the people who turned up before they were asked, to do things they didn’t have time to do. Neighbors who collected kids from school and came to hospitals to sit. Friends who stayed. Groups of people who materialized to make lunch for four kids for months because their parents couldn’t.
This was community. And what I would come to learn, slowly, is that community is about a series of small choices and everyday actions: how to spend a Saturday, what to do when a neighbor falls ill, how to make time when there is none. Knowing others and being known; investing in somewhere instead of trying to be everywhere. Communities are built, like Legos, one brick at a time. There’s no hack.
When Robbie died, I wanted to do less and be more. And what I wanted to be was more connected—not only to my family and close friends, but to the people around me who would be the buffer against the inevitable absence of me.
What’s happening to communities?