The makings of a successful life

Being successful at our life is important. I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago at a funeral of a friend – Steve.* He was only 40 years old.

His death came quickly. He complained of headaches one evening and was taken to the nearest suburban hospital and then transferred to a major city hospital. He deteriorated quickly, and was gone five days later.

He had never married, so there was no wife and there were no children. His parents had to manage the funeral.

One life’s impact
Steve was a member of a church and the shock of his death in their community caused the leaders to organise an unofficial memorial service on the Friday evening after his death. The church seats about 200 and it was full.

For the funeral a few days later, extra chairs were brought in and an overflow watched the funeral service on a screen in an adjoining hall.

He was a keen basketballer and with his size – well over six foot and stocky with it – he was hard to get past, particularly under the net. He played passionately, but we heard that he had earned the respect of opposing players by playing fairly – with no dummy spits even if he felt the umpire had made a wrong decision.

Several from the league he played in turned up wearing their numbered playing singlets in his honour.

Every Tuesday night for years, he opened a high school’s gymnasium so anybody from the community could come and play basketball – no matter what their skill level. Friends brought friends. This helped a lot of young people to not only find friendship, but also brought stability in their lives.

And, before you think I’m making him a saint, we would both laugh at the notion. He had his struggles. He had his weaknesses. He didn’t always have his life together.

Successful living
Too often we look at success as having to do with a bank balance or a career, or a talent of some kind. I suspect Steve’s bank balance wasn’t large, but I don’t know. He had a job he enjoyed, but it wasn’t one that brought in truckloads of money. If you’re looking for talent, he had a good bass voice he used occasionally.

Steve was simply a friend to many. He was upbeat. He always had a smile and a bit of a joke. He got alongside people. So many people talked about how he was there for them during difficult times.

He had a positive attitude. There’s something attractive about someone who looks for solutions rather than merely grumble about the problems. And you could count on him because he would be there if there was a need and he thought he could help.

Hugh Mackay, in The Good Life, says: “The greatest monument to any of our lives will not be in stone, but in our living legacy – the influence we have had on other people at every point of connection with the human family … You need only to treat people with kindness, compassion and respect, knowing they will have been enriched by their encounters with you.”

There’s a truth there, a truth that Steve lived out. He does leave a living legacy.

The big lesson
Living a successful life should be a goal at whatever stage we’re at. As we get older, and particularly in retirement, we have more freedom to choose what we will do and to be the person we want to be.

And it’s also an opportunity to create our own living legacy.

As for Steve, I’m going to miss his slap on my back or the punch on my arm and the question: “How are you going Bruce?”

Because he meant it – he really did want to know.

*Not his real name

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Written by Bruce Manners


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