Arianna Huffington on a New Definition of Success
And yet we spend so much time and effort and energy on those résumé entries—entries that lose all significance as soon as our heart stops beating. Even for those who die with amazing Wikipedia entries, whose lives were synonymous with accomplishment and achievement, their eulogies focus mostly on what they did when they weren't achieving and succeeding. They aren't bound by our current, broken definition of success. Look at Steve Jobs, a man whose life, at least as the public saw it, was about creating things—things that were, yes, amazing and game changing. But when his sister, Mona Simpson, rose to honor him at his memorial service, that's not what she focused on.
Yes, she talked about his work and his work ethic. But mostly she raised these as manifestations of his passions. "Steve worked at what he loved," she said. What really moved him was love. "Love was his supreme virtue," she said, "his god of gods.
"When [his son] Reed was born, he began gushing and never stopped. He was a physical dad, with each of his children. He fretted over Lisa's boyfriends and Erin's travel and skirt lengths and Eve's safety around the horses she adored."
And then she added this touching image: "None of us who attended Reed's graduation party will ever forget the scene of Reed and Steve slow dancing."
His sister made abundantly clear in her eulogy that Steve Jobs was a lot more than just the guy who invented the iPhone. He was a brother and a husband and a father who knew the true value of what technology can so easily distract us from. Even if you build an iconic product, one that lives on in our lives, what is foremost in the minds of the people you care about most are the memories you built in their lives.
In her 1951 novel Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar has the Roman emperor meditating on his death: "It seems to me as I write this hardly important to have been emperor." Thomas Jefferson's epitaph describes him as "author of the Declaration of American Independence... and father of the University of Virginia." There is no mention of his presidency.
The old adage that we should live every day as if it were our last usually means that we shouldn't wait until death is imminent to begin prioritizing the things that really matter. Anyone with a smartphone and a full email in-box knows that it's easy to be busy while not being aware that we're actually living.
A life that embraces the Third Metric is one lived in a way that's mindful of our eventual eulogy. "I'm always relieved when someone is delivering a eulogy and I realize I'm listening to it," joked George Carlin. We may not be able to witness our own eulogy, but we're actually writing it all the time, every day. The question is how much we're giving the eulogizer to work with.
In the summer of 2013, an obituary of a Seattle woman named Jane Lotter, who died of cancer at sixty, went viral. The author of the obit was Lotter herself.
"One of the few advantages of dying from Grade 3, Stage IIIC endometrial cancer, recurrent and metastasized to the liver and abdomen," she wrote, "is that you have time to write your own obituary." After giving a lovely and lively account of her life, she showed that she lived with the true definition of success in mind. "My beloved Bob, Tessa, and Riley," she wrote. "My beloved friends and family. How precious you all have been to me. Knowing and loving each one of you was the success story of my life."