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Last month my wife lost one of her closest friends.

They met in fourth grade and had been friends for more than 30 years.

Casey Lynn Wakefield lost her battle with cancer at the age of 41 on November 9th, 2023. She left behind three children and a 20-year marriage.

This blog article is dedicated to her.

Fire in the sky

A few months ago, I was backpacking in the Sierra and witnessed a flaming meteorite rip through the atmosphere and burst into a ball of fire in the night sky. It was an incredible sight to behold.

We all nearly ducked because of how close it appeared.

In that moment I realized how fragile life is, how precarious our situation is on earth. It’s crazy to think that there are these huge objects moving through space at unfathomable speed, and many of them hit our planet (17,000 per year in fact).

When someone dies, I think it feels just like that.

It rips through the veil of day-to-day life, a piercing reminder that this life does indeed come to an end.

What is a successful life?

As I sat in Casey’s memorial service last weekend, between the onslaught of my tears, her older brother’s words grabbed my full attention—“her life was the definition of success.”

According to a survey by Harvard Health, 80% of the next generation has a life goal of being rich and 50% have a goal of becoming famous.

Is this what it means to live a successful life?

Casey was neither of those.

She cut hair, went to all her kid’s sporting events, and loved snowboarding and camping.

She was renowned for her devotion to her family, her silly facial expressions, and being the “hostess with the most-ess” for John’s fire crew.

While many of her friends were partying in their 20’s, Casey became the role model for how to lead a family.

Perhaps unknowingly, she followed some really sound life principles for happiness and successful living.

The research shows that instead of focusing on being rich and famous, we should instead devote our lives to our closest relationships, be free to be who we really are, and enjoy the time we have.

Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger is the director of the longest running happiness research project at Harvard.

He clearly says that happiness comes from investing in “friends, family, and community.”

Similarly, author John Maxwell writes, “Success means having those closest to me love and respect me the most.”

And that is how Casey lived.

Her service was packed with hundreds of people from the Sparks community in Nevada. She was not rich or famous, but was undoubtedly successful.

Her life was cut short, and the agony seemed almost unbearable for her family, but her legacy and impact are obvious.

She was an inspiration to those around her. She worked hard, laughed a lot, cared for those in her circle of influence, and knew how to have a good time.

In a world where many are seeking happiness in wealth or status, a simpler life is the antidote. We have complicated the definition of success, and we need to simplify it.

We underestimate the profound impact we can have when we stop focusing on influencing those across the internet, and instead turn our focus to those in our closest surrounding orbit. The reward is not only more impactful, but more fulfilling.

We will miss you Casey, but your memory has influenced countless people, most importantly, those closest to you.

“In the end, it’s not the days in your life but the life in your days.” –Abraham Lincoln

Questions for reflection

When someone dies, it creates an opportunity to reflect. It’s a clear reminder that our lives on this planet will end, maybe sooner then we think.

It can help us pause and consider what a successful life looks like, and how we want to be remembered.

Here are some questions I recommend for journaling, meditation, or prayer at the end of this year:

  1. How do you want to be remembered by those closest to you?
  2. Describe the person you want to become. Are you becoming that person?
  3. If you continued living the way you are now, what regrets could you have?
  4. How does your life demonstrate that you are caring for your friends, family, and community?
  5. Are you living the life you want to live or are you attempting to meet the expectations of others?
  6. Is there any evidence in your behavior that you are driven by wealth or status?

Have a great weekend!


*If you have enjoyed Parker’s blog, check out The Next Peak Podcast that Parker co-hosts. We interview successful leaders and discuss research-based principles that help people win in the workplace without compromising the things that matter most—relationships, a life of purpose, and health.

Want more? Suggested Resources Below




Dr. Parker Houston

Parker Houston

Dr. Parker Houston is a licensed clinical psychologist and board-certified in organizational psychology. He is also certified in personal and executive coaching. Parker's personal mission is to share science-based principles of psychology and timeless spiritual practices, to help people improve the way they lead themselves, their families, and their organizations. *Opinions expressed are the author's own.
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