Like many young Americans Mitch had dreamed of freedom, adventure, traveling, but had slowly traded each and every one of them in the pursuit of success as our culture defines it—more zeros on a paycheck, a house big enough to drive your neighbors mad, and an important and respected position within his line of work. How horrible it must be to realize years later that your life isn’t what you’d wanted because you cashed in your dreams.
Mitch realized that in attempting to squeeze every last piece of happiness out of his life by burying himself in his accomplishments and filling his calendar to the max with “important” things, he’d ultimately lost a piece of his life . “My days were full,” Mitch recalls in his book, “yet I remained, much of the time, unsatisfied” (34). What a sad statement. Busy, but unsatisfied.
In the middle of a jam-packed, unsatisfied life, Mitch began having weekly chats with his dying friend and former sociology teacher, Morrie. During one visit Morrie told him, “Well, the truth is if you really listen to that bird on your shoulder, if you accept you can die at any time—then you might not be as ambitious as you are” (83). I can relate with Mitch because tend to be very ambitious, I have very high expectations for myself, but if I was more aware of my own mortality I don’t think I’d be as driven. Not that I’d suddenly slack off, but not getting that perfect grade wouldn’t seem like the end of the world. Being second or third or maybe even fourteenth sometimes wouldn’t be that big of a deal. And being kind, not perfect, would be the primary objective.
I’m not apposed to ambition, and neither was Morrie. But he saw that Mitch, in trying not to let his life slip through his fingertips, in striving to succeed according to the typical modern American model, had actually lost some of his life and all of the people who cared about him. Mitch had neglected all of his relationships in the name of ambition; he’d lost the most important thing of all.
Morrie, on the other hand, made people his focus. He fostered relationships with many people throughout his life. And even as he was dying the success of his efforts could be measuring by the loving micro-community he has so purposefully develop around him. What a beautiful legacy to leave—people who’ve been touched, inspired, and loved.
Measuring Success Differently:
Our self-centered American culture is dysfunctional and even hurtful. It isolates people from their families, friends and community, and taunts us all to chase after the wrong life goals with the carrot of “success”—a bigger pay check, a bigger house, a bigger car, a more toned body—leaving us with nothing but purposeless, unfulfilled lives. “We put our values in the wrong things,” Morrie said. “And it leads to very disillusioned lives” (123).
Instead, Morrie believed that “The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” People. Maybe finding purpose and fulfillment in life really is just all about people, reaching out to those around us by focusing on them and forgetting about ourselves for at least a few minutes.