A while back I came up with a rather morbid benchmark for evaluating my success. I’ll call it the “funeral test”.
As an introvert and a borderline perfectionist I used to keep my distance from people. Just thinking about the word “network” would give me a panic attack. I only wanted to interact with people if I could prove to them that I had something very valuable to offer. As you can imagine, it was rare that I felt this way, therefore my network was pretty limited.
A few years ago my great uncle passed away. Uncle Al was a cool guy. He was cheerful and full of life for over 95 years–fixing things, collecting things, trapping beavers, you name it. I didn’t make it to his funeral, but I asked my mother how many people attended. She listed them. There were six. My heart sank. “Well that’s depressing”, I said out loud.
I knew I wanted my funeral to be different. I wanted to be the kind of person who had tons of people there to celebrate me…and that’s when I realized I would need to do a lot more networking. Sadly, this realization didn’t actually change much about my approach. I doubled-down on trying to impress people, which became overwhelming, and probably had the opposite of the effect I was going for.
The good news is that at some point I did decide to change. Something just clicked (or snapped) one day and I realized that the whole point of my funeral test was that people cared enough about me to show up, not that they were impressed by me. I began to dig into my strategy for interacting with other people. It has taken some time, but I have scaled back on my former approach. I still worry about what people think, but I am now more focused on doing things that matter, showing people that I care, and making real connections.
My original goal was to have a crowded funeral, which would prove my success. Now my goal is to live each day with meaning and purpose. A crowded funeral might be a symptom of that kind of success …or not. I don’t know. What I do know is that instead of focusing on the feelings of inadequacy that stem from my inevitable failure to be impressive, I focus on the feelings of gratitude that stem from living meaningfully. I stop thinking about some day in the future when I am gone, and start living in the present, right where I am now.