Feb 29, 2024 - Business

Axios Finish Line: A better measure of success

Illustration of a person holding an umbrella out for another person

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

I'm like most of you: I get easily sucked into my ambitions, my grievances, my to-do list, my crazy life.

  • Peggy Cummings, whose funeral I was privileged to attend in Buffalo last week, was not. She easily and gladly threw herself into others' ambitions, grievances, to-do lists and lives.

Why it matters: In a eulogy, her niece Andrea Duvall showed a bright way to measure our days and lives: Not by what we did, but what we did for others.

  • "I cannot remember a single wish that Peg espoused that was truly for herself, other than to be with her people — and her greatest joy was in their happiness," Andrea eulogized.
  • A church-full of tears fell in agreement.

The big picture: I won the lottery because I know several people like this — Peggy; my mother, Joan, at home; Mike Allen here at Axios. It has made me focus on being less self-focused. Less what have I done lately and more what have I done for others lately.

  • This mentality makes us a better parent, spouse, partner, friend, boss or co-worker.
  • Better yet, there's no downside to it. No one ever said in their final moments: "I just wish I had worried about myself a lot more!"

Andrea's eulogy offered a blueprint for shifting our lives to more about others, at work and at home.

1. Look up, look out. To lock in and truly listen is a hard skill to master. It starts with shifting our gaze from the phone — or mirror. Most of us want to have our turn, to offer our take or to check out. But something magical happens when we shut our mouths and open our ears: We learn and make the other person feel heard, maybe even special.

  • Peg "had a way of really paying attention to people so that they knew she was fully present and engaged." I saw this in her eyes and actions.
  • You often find that people remember more vividly interactions in which someone simply asked questions and listened — instead of prattling on. It is the opposite of how many of us think.

2. Show up. Don't show off. We think we impress people by sounding smart or connected or accomplished. But what really turns heads is this attentive silence.

  • Peg "never worried once about impressing anyone — and thus endeared herself to everyone," Andrea said.
  • Something about enthusiastic listening makes random conversations stick years later.

3. Kick your bucket list. "I had asked in recent years if she'd like to go to Ireland or Hawaii or anywhere — but she had no such bucket list," Andrea said. "She fought so long and so hard for one reason — she wanted so badly just to be here with all of you."

  • OK, this one seems impossibly hard. But a doable twist is to spend time dreaming of an adventure you can do for and with others for their joy.

4. Be there — unconditionally. Looking back, I believe the reason I had the stomach for risk to start two companies — and even write these columns — was a safety net of unconditional love from my parents as a kid and my wife Autumn + kids today. Andrea, her husband and two kids had the same thing in Peg:

  • "Her love was constant, devoted, attentive and never demanding."

What a description. What a way to measure a life well lived.

  • RIP, Peggy.
Go deeper