MEASURE OF SUCCESS: LIFE LESSONS FROM DEATH
I debated long and hard about writing on here about this topic. It isn’t something to be talked about on LinkedIn – my former self would have thought. Well, that former self is gone. She is in the ‘before’. And today I speak to you from the ‘after’.
In October last year, tragedy struck. Suddenly, completely unexpectedly. Like a bolt of lightning. One Monday afternoon, my young, healthy husband died. Just like that. We had no warning. We got to say no goodbyes.
I didn’t know what had hit me. I was drowning. I knew absolutely no one else who had lost a spouse so young. This wasn’t supposed to happen. We were only starting our life as a family of 3. Slowly, I started finding my way around the dark abyss of grief. Grief – a word so neat that is a proxy for everything messy. I slowly began to understand that something that should actually be talked about openly and frequently – namely death and how to cope with it – is not only not talked about, but is completely misunderstood and misrepresented.
There are so many myths about grief in our grief-averse societies. Myths like – Time heals, you will get over it, everything happens for a reason, see the silver linings and a 1000 others.
In reality, as I found to my shock and despair, none of those are even remotely true. Time DOES not heal, you WILL not get over it (you will learn to live with it), death DOES NOT happen for any reason and there are no silver linings or positive sides to losing your soulmate so young.
So, here I find myself, in this ‘after’. And the one thing that I have gained in these last few months is clarity. Grief cuts out the noise and makes you focus on what is important in life. Clarity about what truly matters.
And so today, when I saw a few people sharing a post about a measure of success, I felt like weighing in with the lessons I have learned in the after.
For those of you who haven’t seen the graphic I am referring to, it goes like this: Measure of success it says in the first pie chart: 50% job title, 50% salary. And what it suggests in the next pie chart is that success should actually be measured as a mix of physical and mental health, how you spend your free time, along with job title and salary.
While I am glad that the needle at-least moved on that one. I find it woefully inadequate. Abhijeet would have too. He would have scoffed at it.
As someone who constantly thinks about what her husband’s legacy is, let me tell you that job title and salary do not even feature on the list. Abhijeet was an amazingly successful individual. On the work front, he gave up a great-paying corporate job in his mid-20s in favor of working in the development and non-profit space. He spent the majority of his career earning way below his true worth. But money is not what motivated him. Contributing in a meaningful way is what did. He was an extremely sharp and intelligent person who excelled in his chosen field of work and contributed to building a successful organization from the ground up. He was dedicated, loyal, and hard-working. He got to work at 8 AM every single day. A week before he died, he had completed 13 years at Quest Alliance.
He was an athlete, a national-level cricketer, and a marathon runner. He ran 5 full marathons and was training for a triathlon.
But his true success lay in the relationships he built both in and outside of his workplace. We held an online memorial for him that was attended by over 100 people who felt so close to him that there was not one single dry eye. We spoke about him for over 4 hours and friends from all over the world shared stories of the kind of impact he had had on each one of their lives. So many of them attributed their own success and life paths in part to Abhi. They talked about how generous he was with his time, advice, his wit, and most importantly his camaraderie. He played multiple roles in his life and he played them all with ease.
So many friends from around the world reached out to me to say that my daughter and I have a home in France, in Germany, in the US and so many other countries. Many friends grieved alongside me and I knew that I wasn’t the only one staying up at night unable to sleep because of the pain of losing him.
Abhi owned very few things. He hardly ever shopped for clothes. His material belongings fit into 4 or 5 boxes but the love for him in this world does not fit into one heart of mine.
And from my own experience of surviving something that really threatens your mental health and sanity I learned that another life skill that is undervalued and which should truly be right up there in how we measure success is: emotional intelligence.
You can have the fanciest job title and the highest paying job in the world, but if you are faced with the sudden death of a partner, the only thing that can come to your aid is emotional intelligence. I would define it as a combination of things: A willingness to be open and vulnerable. Openness to feeling everything that you need to feel. The strength to not run away from hard emotions. The grace to admit that you need support and to ask for help. The courage to face your deepest darkest mental battles.
I believe that emotional intelligence can be built through life experiences, but that is a topic for another day.
Thank you for reading along.
Blog originally published on LinkedIn.