The Greatest Privilege is That You Are Alive

We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.
— Confucius

I think a lot about my own mortality.  It started when I became a mother.  I don’t think about it in a morbid way, but in a ‘who will come to my funeral and what will they say’ way*.  I once read that a method of self-reflection is to imagine that a work colleague, a friend and a family member all delivered a eulogy at your funeral.  What would they say about you?  What would you want them to say about you?

I find it a powerful force that drives me to be the best person I can be.

Last Friday, hundreds of people on our little island paid their respects to a special man.  It was a dreadfully sad afternoon, but also awe inspiring to witness the outpouring of love and affection for him by a huge number of people.  A friend of his read this poem by Robert Louis Stevenson:

The man is a success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who leaves the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who never lacked appreciation of earth's beauty or failed to express it; who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had.

We talk about success all the time.  We usually define it in achievements, status, wealth, the accumulation of things.  We look at someone driving a nice car and think to ourselves ‘they are successful.’  We see the title at the bottom of the email and think to ourselves ‘they are successful.’  It’s a treadmill that we all find ourselves on every day.

But how will we define success at the end of our lives?  How will we define it in our eulogy?

Warren Buffett once said that success is defined by the answer to one question ‘Do the people you love, love you back?’.  I would go one step further and ask ‘how many of those people are there?’

In a recent podcast Naval Ravikant talks about success and the path we take to get there.  “You don’t want to be the person that succeeds but is highly strung, stressed and leaving a trail of emotional wreckage behind you.  You want to be the person who gets there calmly, quietly and without struggle.” 

Calmly, quietly and without struggle.

How do we do that though, in practice?

In my world we talk about compound interest as applied to money.  It’s the process of generating interest upon interest and building a snowball.  But we can apply the principle of compound interest to any area of our life.  Small, incremental change takes time and requires patience but it can have a dramatic impact over the long-run.

James Clear talks about the art of continuous improvement and how getting just 1% better at something every day can change your life.  “So often we convince ourselves that change is only meaningful if there is some large, visible outcome associated with it.  Meanwhile, improving by just 1 percent isn’t notable (and sometimes it isn’t even noticeable).  But it can be just as meaningful, especially in the long run.”

Tiny gains.jpg

This concept applies beautifully to fitness and relationships.

Scott Galloway (author of new book The Algebra of Happiness: Notes on the Pursuit of Success, Love and Meaning – I haven’t read it yet but it’s in my Amazon cart for my summer trip) said in a podcast conversation: “We talk about the magic of compound interest.  Invest $1000 a month, a quarter, a year, when you are a young person and you wake up and you have a couple of hundred grand when you are older.  The same is true of relationships.  There is evidence that small investments when you are a younger person……you wake up and you have made those little investments and you find that you have a lot of meaningful relationships.” 

“All of us can start right away, making little investments across a broader set of relationships and then I think you do wake up one day and think, wow, there is a lot more in this bank than I had ever imagined.”

On Friday the story of a man who knew this was told. His bank was full. It was full of more love than he could ever have imagined.

The strength and number of your relationships are the only thing that will matter at the end.  It can take a funeral to bring things into perspective.  Invest accordingly.

The greatest privilege is that you are alive.
— Naval Ravikant


*What I want them to say is “she was kind, she was honest, she loved deeply and I am a better person for knowing and being with her.”  I want them to say “in her little way, she changed the world.” I am working on it.