I attended a memorial service today for a friend who succumbed to the effects of mental illness. It was a staggering loss for his family and friends, me among them. Few knew of Jeff’s struggles, which made the loss even harder to bear.
Throughout the service, many people reflected on how Jeff impacted the world around him. Two themes emerged from this recounting and I believe we can learn from them.
Orient Your Life Around Needs Versus Desires
In all the years I knew Jeff, he lived a relatively simple life. He maintained a meaningful but not overly demanding career that revolved around both the outdoor recreation and retail worlds. His work served his needs, but did not overwhelm the things most important to him: his friends and family.
Jeff was married to a lovely and kind woman. After they got married, twins came along, with one suffering from a rare developmental disorder that required extraordinary attention. Jeff and his wife made sure those needs were met and that their daughter suffered as little as possible from the exclusionary effects of disability.
With friends Jeff was equally giving. Always ready to help others, he routinely volunteered time and assistance to those who needed help with whatever project was top on the list. In his broader community, Jeff committed time and energy to troubled youth. He met the needs of others, always with a warm smile and an outstretched hand.
In the last several years, I only saw Jeff once or twice a year. Our visits were often short, most lasting less than an hour during the rush of the busy day. Yet, whenever I walked into his shop, I was always greeted with that warm smile and a, “What’s up, Pablo?” Always. And then he’d make time to have coffee or talk for a few minutes – meeting my needs to hang with him for a minute or two.
Reflecting on those times with Jeff and hearing the stories others told, it occurred to me that if we focus on our needs – our true needs – then aren’t our desires met? I’m sure Jeff struggled mightily with his illness, but I believe that when he was meeting his own needs – being with and helping others – his desires were being met.
I’m going to think really hard about what my true needs are and see if meeting them does, in fact, result in my desires also being met.
Consider The Breadth Of Success, Not Just Its Height
Success is generally viewed as a height, often referred to in that form of measure – being “on top,” reaching “the pinnacle,” having “mountains of cash,” etc. As I experienced Jeff’s service today, I began asking myself whether success might have another dimension – one of breadth. Can success be wide in addition to or instead of tall? Can someone’s success be measured in terms of affect?
The answer, of course, is yes. There are many famous people who have postively affected the lives of thousands, even millions, and they have been recognized for their efforts. Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela are two that come to mind. But why not us mere mortals? In other words, should we measure and remain cognizant of how much positive affect is occuring when considering our own success or that of others?
The answer, again, is yes. But if it’s that obvious, why don’t we? And, more imporantly, how can we?
I don’t have the answers, but I know that when we lost Jeff we lost the personification of the breadth of success.