This blog is for Jim Marventano's family and friends to review his status and updates while he goes through treatment for Stage IV Colon Cancer. We can beat it together!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Measuring Success

Last night I heard a very interesting quote. It was "You're only as successful as the five people you're closest to, and that doesn't necessarily refer to money."


I don't know about you, but I started really examining who I thought I was closest to. I have a huge array of friends and relatives. But who do I call when I'm really hysterical? Not many people.

I thought about success and what it really means to me. I decided many years ago that how much money Jim and I made wasn't a measure of success. I listened to a book on tape of The Millionaire Next Door, and we cut our lifestyle way back so that we could pay for things in cash and not carry any debt. I considered that a big life success.

Oh, but I do love material things. If you're my friend on Facebook, chances are you already know that I'm literally attempting to run the Chicago Marathon this year in 5 1/2 hrs or less. If I can do it, my reward is a Marc Jacobs purse that I've been lusting after for *years*, but haven't been able to justify the cost. Yes, that's what will drive me to finish a marathon. Not being healthy or even being thin. I want something material. I have a love/hate affair with all things designer. Not because I want other people to know what I have - who cares what anyone else thinks? But because oh my, the leather of a Marc Jacobs purse just good. Because Ted Baker's clothing is softer than anything I could get at Old Navy. And because my Target sunglasses ride up on my face when I smile...but my Chanel sunglasses don't. (And I wear my Target sunglasses and the Chanel sunglasses in equal measure.)  The love part is that I love them. The hate part is that I can't afford them. So I have a very few things that I truly love, and buy everything else at Target, Land's End, or when feeling crazy, Banana Republic. Loving those things also makes me feel ashamed and materialistic. And it also drives up my envy gene when I see people who have things that I want. I have worked for several years on keeping that in check, sometimes it's a struggle. Lately it's not as much of a struggle, but man, I have to be vigilant about keeping it under control.

But, I digress. Success isn't measured in wealth or material things. Not in my mind anyway. When I evaluate the people I feel closest to in life, none of them are millionaires. But I consider all of them highly successful. In their relationships, in their families and homes, in love, in life. All of them have stumbled or gone through tough times. Instead of wallowing in it, they've all picked themselves up, regained perspective, and gone forth with courage. And done it with an air of optimism that is truly refreshing.

I wondered whether I would consider myself successful. When Jim was alive, I considered us highly successful. We had two fabulous jobs in Atlanta. We had two beautiful children. We moved to Kohler and bought a house that's cute as a button. I got to stay home with the kids, while he went to work so close to our house that he often came home for lunch. We loved and respected each other. We laughed and had fun together. We made plans, we had goals. We had tons of friends, including our siblings. I really thought we had it all. Sure, there were tough times. I am an in-your-face-get-it-out-on-the-table fighter. Jim was so passive aggressive that he could go days without speaking to me. Early on in Atlanta we dug ourselves a debt mountain...and then managed to completely pay it off. We disagreed on lots and lots of things. Our parenting philosophies were so different that sometimes I'd call my mom and cry about it. But who doesn't have things like that? Overall, I rated us as hugely successful.

When Jim died, I considered that my life failure. Man, we mounted one hell of a battle against cancer. And failed. I was left reeling. Without Jim, how would I moved forward?

I've spent the last three and a half years carefully constructing what I consider to be a successful life. I've become so rigid in my thinking that in my mind, there's only one way to do things. But this building project has been more akin to a house of cards than a concrete block foundation. Every time I've stumbled and fallen, I've seen the entire construct fall apart and I've had to start again. I've become bitter and brittle. I resent families that have their stuff together. I had all that. Why was it taken from me? Why do they get to have what I lost?

I am a nerd of gargantuan proportions. Thusly, one of my recent favorite movies is "Tron: Legacy". And you know what Kevin Flynn says? "The thing about perfection is that it's unknowable. It's impossible, but it's also right in front of us all the time." Aw shit. Really? I had to learn that from Kevin Flynn?

The five people I feel closest to seem to recognize that they aren't striving for perfection. They're striving for "getting it done", "kindness", "living a moral life" and "giving and receiving love". You know what's funny? I don't see a Marc Jacobs handbag in that list. I don't see where they feel that a setback makes them rip down the entire house of cards. It just takes them down a level. And then they rebuild from there. Maybe that's what makes a strong foundation. Recognizing that perfection isn't the goal.

People often tell me that I'm too hard on myself. Of course I am. I'm trying to set up a rigid structure that helps us get by. I'm doing it alone. I want so badly for the kids and me to have a "normal" life. I have to put out double the effort, literally, in order to achieve what other families can. Loneliness and bitterness drive a lot of my activities. Despite all that, we have very happy days here. We are living a normal life as I see it. (A Ferguson definition of "normal" probably doesn't meet the same definition everyone else uses.) We get by, one day at a time. And most days, we do better than get by. When I think about the five people I feel closest to, I try and model their success, and I feel happy knowing that in my own way, I am successful too.


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