At What Cost?

There is such thing as a cost-benefit analysis, or a CBA, that weighs potential risks and outcomes before making a decision. These are used everywhere from fortune a 500 company’s decision to sell stocks, to a couple’s decision to buy a car. Even Ted Mosby uses this when we asks the waitress for a pen and a legal pad before making a decision (for those of you who didn’t get the How I Met Your Mother Reference, I am sorry…. For you…. For not watching that show). The truth is, that most of us do not use a CBA in our everyday lives, which is understandable, I can’t think of anyone who actually does. But, because they are seldom used, does that mean that they are useless?

We all have goals, or things that we strive for. We can walk the streets of LA to see a thousand prospective screenwriters, find interns at any financial institution, or search success in a social media search bar to see the filtered photos of whatever materialistic goal the poster has this week. Goals are natural, and success is a great envisioned destination on our route, but while we our on this journey, or while we are daydreaming what it would be like to be a Kardashian, do we ever ask ourselves, at what cost? At what cost does this come? At what cost is success?

Western society praises individualism, such to the point that we have sayings reflecting the need in our culture to speak and stand out. “The squeaky wheel gets the oil” (fascinating enough, communalistic cultures, such as Japan, have a saying that goes: the nail that stands out, gets hammered down). Both views on life have their pros and cons, but in our culture, we hold the beings who have broken out of the mold on a pedestal. We praise those who can rise above the “average life” and “grab life by the horns”. In all of this praising, envying, and idealising, we are never shown the other side, we are never told what it all cost them.

Albert Einstein, who literally defined the word genius, had a darker side to is achievements. We all mostly see the theory of relativity, or joking write down “E=MC2”, but a closer look shows a less family-friendly story. As Eric Barker describes on the Art of Manliness Podcast:

“Albert Einstein just kind of retreated into his head trying to find that next big discovery… he had a contract with his wife about on what terms she could interrupt him... He had another son who was institutionalized, and Einstein didn’t see him for the last 20 or 30 years of his life, His other son said, ‘The only project my father ever gave up on was me’. He just sacrificed.”

Ted Williams devoted his whole life to baseball, which made him great. It also made him a lousy husband, such to the point that one of his three wives threatened to write a book titled, “My Turn at Bat was No Ball”. Lebron James had to apologize to his wife that she takes the backseat to his pursuit of greatness. Anna Kendrick stated in an interview that she works so much, and worked to hard to get to where she is, that she “barely has any friends” and the only people who can be her friend are the ones who are comfortable with never seeing her.

It is so easy, almost addicting, to look at these success stories and see gods. To look at these people who changed the way the world operates, and see heroes. To look at people like Steve Jobs, Howard Hughes, and Elon Musk, and see them as these pioneers of new ideas. But when we pull back the curtains, sometimes many of their lives are really sad.

Howard Hughes, who Stan Lee based Iron Man (Tony Stark) off of, is widely seen as one of the world’s best businessmen. He made millions venturing into fields such as film, real estate, and flight. We see the money, the quotes such as “I'm not a paranoid deranged millionaire. Goddamit, I'm a billionaire”, and the crazy leaps of faith he took in business, such as buying out his family’s company at 18. What we don’t see is the brash ego, the loneliness, and the solemn end that he faced. Ending his life as a recluse, with a need for medication, one nurse praised Mr. Hughes for his great achievements in life. He responded, “If you could trade places with me, in one week you’d be begging to go back to your life”.

Elon Musk (who’s life isn’t too sad right now), now praised as the “Modern Day Iron Man” is deemed the most productive man of our time. Revolutionizing as many fields as he does, Musk must have a tight schedule. Well, as reported by Complex, he sleeps 6 hours a night, rarely eats breakfast, and works 85-100 hours a week. During a 5 minute lunch, he scarfs down his food between meetings. Spending Mondays and Fridays in LA at SpaceX, and the rest of the week in the Bay at Tesla, Musk spends Sundays with his 5 sons. That is, he spends it with them, while reviewing his week’s worth of emails.

I am, by no means, attempting to discredit or undermine any work that these people, such as Elon Musk, do. There achievements change the world. I am only attempting to point out what we never see, what they had to give up, what they sacrificed to reach this point.

I had dreams of lights and flashing cameras, of a world where I was the center. I had visions of my name being cheered by the masses, and I left to chase it. But they never tell you about the other side. About the lonely evenings living halfway across the country, about the missed birthdays, or soccer games. There is always a price to pay, but is it worth it?

I think this is a personal decision, that no one but you can answer. Does Albert Einstein regret the debilitating effect that his success had on his sons? Does Elon Musk regret that he can’t see his sons more? Are these individuals successes in their own eyes, or just in society’s? We praise men and women who go the distance, go conquer all, but for what? Does Alexander still feel great that after all of the blood, after all of the conquering, after the death at age 32, all he received was a city named after him?  

I always told myself that I was sacrificing the now, for a better future. That if I suffered for years at the bottom, I would rise to the top someday. This may be true, as in order to grow one must fail, but this deferred life plan is also very flawed in one key aspect: we could die at any moment. Marcus Aurelius reminded himself of this when he wrote down, “"You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think."

We must plan for the future, and lay groundwork for a better life, but at no means is sacrificing the now worth what may or may not come. The present is all we have.  On a podcast about ego with James Altucher, Ryan Holiday touches on this subject. “If you aren’t enjoying the present moment, aren’t you living in a world where you egotistically told yourself that the future that you are predicting for yourself is guaranteed?”

Do not be deceived by people trying to sell you this route, this end goal for happiness. Endless motivational videos and images fill the internet with photos of money and planes, overlaid with misdrawn and misrepresented quotes. There are lines fluttering around telling us to, “never count the costs”, and do “do whatever it takes.” Don’t let them into your mind. Don’t be fooled by childish motivation, by pump-up speeches and acts of passion in a Devil’s bargain at which you may never return. Do not look back and realize we sold what we loved in pursuit of what we thought we wanted.

There is a price to pay for everything. New cars and phones must be purchased somehow. Time with friends comes at the expense of another activity. Watching television comes the the cost of not doing something else that may be more productive. There is always a cost, but before you pay it, ask yourself why? Why are you leaving your family? What is the truth at the bottom of your dream? Is it to express yourself, or to have others hear you?  Is the reason you’re chasing the bright lights and the endless red carpets to take part in a great art form, or to satisfy your ego by being the one in front of the camera?

Ego can be a tool to reach new heights. We have seen it with some, such as Steve Jobs and Kanye West (who are the exception, not the rule). As well, emotions such as anger, pity, and other harmful feelings “has made many a millionaire”. The Daily Stoic continues this thought with “but it is never worth the costs that come with it.”

So we must ask ourselves, why am I chasing this dream? Is it to be an ”success” in other’s eyes? Is it for more money? Is it to create a great company? If you have set your sights on this outcome, what are you willing to lose? What do we lose for spending all our lives setting up a company? Ryan Holiday states again, “If I win at this company, but I lose at this other thing (relationship, etc), what have I gained? Haven't people spent all their money trying to get some personal happiness? Don’t we buy boats and nice cars to feel good in our private lives? What if I don’t have some of those things, and didn’t ruin this relationship. (wouldn’t I be just as happy)?”

Why do we work so much for money, where does it go? “It goes in a bank account. Why am I doing all these things I don’t like so I can have more money on a spreadsheet somewhere, if I have most of what I want or need?” Ryan Holiday continues on James Altucher's podcast. When I ask others why they work jobs they hate, or have the seemingly endless conversation about future aspirations with anyone older than me, I am always told that working hard buys you financial freedom. “If you’re doing things you don’t want to do, can you really argue that freedom is important to you?”

I am not saying that sacrificing things in our lives for success is bad. Not at all. We must cut off the loose ends in order to become the people we were meant to be. The world needs people to make great achievements. What would the world be without Martyrs? Where would we be without the Einsteins or the Musks?

We just need to understand the costs, and decide if we accept them. There is no dream that just comes, and if achieving them was easy, then there would be no point for these conversations. We just need to ask ourselves, why is this our dream? Is it my dream, or someone else's? Or even societies? Once we decide that, we must understand, and decide on the costs.

Because there are always costs. There are always going to have to be sacrifices, but the bottom line is: There are things worth sacrificing, are there are those worth never sacrificing.

Is there a way for us to have both, outstanding success, and personal relationships? Can we achieve the perfect work-life balance? I believe that this is possible. To do so, we must set rules for ourselves. We must set boundaries of things that we will never sacrifice, things that are too important, based on what we set as priorities. My coworker, who found the perfect job across the country, told me that she won’t accept, because she could never imagine living away from her family. Sometimes we learn the hard way, but we learn nevertheless. If I go could back, despite all that I have learned and experienced in my journeys, I would have never sacrificed the time with my sister that I have missed out on.

Next, we must, define success for ourselves. We must block out the temptations of listening to the media, we must fight the ego’s need for self importance, and we must double down on what we know is right deep down inside. We must find a purpose to live, instead of jumping from passion to passion. Once again, there is nothing inherently wrong with success. There is nothing wrong with chasing a dream, or working towards a goal. In fact, it is encouraged, it is needed in our world, but don’t fall into the trap that money, fame, attractiveness, or anything other people try to tell you is success.

I believe it all lies in the decision. If we are living on purpose, if we feel personal satisfaction with our days, if we have a reason for what we do, I believe that is success. In comparison to those of us who live without a reason, or live for someone else’s reason.

As John Wooden told his team “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.

So before we go off, setting sail to Alaska, or Iowa, or wherever your dream lies, let's recall the story Brian Johnson tells his subscribers:

Diamonds are being discovered in Africa. A farmer decides he’s going to head out in pursuit of his fortune so he sells his farm, leaves his family and searches the continent for years. He finds nothing and, apparently, throws himself into a river and dies.Lo and behold, the man who purchased his farm discovers a funny looking rock on his new land. That rock turns out to be one of the biggest diamonds ever discovered. The farm is covered with funny looking rocks like that. His farm becomes one of the most profitable diamond mines in the world.Moral of the story: Before you head out in search of diamonds, check out your current situation. You might just be sitting on acres of diamonds.

Are we searching for what we already have? Do we seek acceptance by fame, but miss those who accept us already?