The Price of Success

“Be careful what you wish for.”  Businessman Holding Money And Clock. Time Is Money Concept

So reads the ad for the recently released film, “Into the Woods.” The Stephen Sondheim musical follows the interwoven paths of fairy tale characters as they fulfill their respective desires. Once achieved, these dreams present realities that no one quite bargained for, leaving each character to consider if the hidden cost of success outweighs the result. For example, after reaching the Happily-Ever-After phase, Cinderella questions her Prince Charming’s fidelity. He replies, quite simply, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”

What is success? In simple form, it is the accomplishment of one’s goals. Taken from the longer view, it is wealth, prestige, title and position. It is the thing most of us are taught to seek from an early age. Conventional success has many obvious and discreet benefits, including the approbation of others, to the point where success is not truly complete without concurrence.

Everything success has a price, measured and meted out in money, time, effort, stress. On the plus side, its pursuit can create growth, maturity, mastery and fulfillment. Pervert the pursuit, however, and it can birth greed, superficiality, envy and hollowness. J. Paul Getty lamented during his life of his solitary status, the result of his incredible drive for power and wealth: “A lasting relationship with a woman is only possible if you are a business failure.”

Perhaps for J. Paul the price of his version of success was worth it, for a time. He is known to have left this life with deep regret. Fortunately for future generations, he was able to turn that regret into great philanthropy. Unfortunately for him and those closest to him, his material accomplishments and influence exacted a very high tariff.

I do not ruminate on Mr. Getty as a cautionary tale. I do not hold that success is necessarily evil or destructive. In my experience, humans are wired to desire some form of “more”…the fundamental question is “What does more (i.e., success) look like for you?”

Which leads to its follow up question: “And how much are willing to pay to for it?”

It seems to me that these questions are given short shrift in our personal calculus. We tend to ask them after we have put our plans in motion, after we have been presented with the bill for our desires. Granted, it is hard to ask these questions before we know what we know about ourselves. It’s also hard to extricate oneself from an unhealthy path. You chose which you would prefer. As for me, I find asking questions easier on my constitution than extrication from a mistake.

The start of the New Year is prime for such reflection. So I leave 2014 with these queries in mind: If 2015 is a great, wonderful, empty page ready to be colored in, what image are you trying to create? What colors and materials will you use? And, of course, how much are you willing to put in, give up and expend to close the year with the art you wish to own?






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