The Price of Success

Like many retirees, Henry Flagler decided to spend his later years on the sunny beaches of Florida.

However, Flagler wasn’t there to relax and drink Pina Coladas. No, the former oil tycoon was there to build up the coastlines, railroads, and cities before Florida was even a destination.

Flagler was a partner of John Rockefeller’s at Standard Oil. By the time he retired, he had made enough money to last multiple lifetimes.

Instead of riding off into the sunset, Flagler became one of a handful of architects who would build out the infrastructure and cities in the Sunshine State during the late 19th and early 20th century.

Florida was essentially the final frontier in America in terms of development in the late-1800s. Few people lived there because the landscape was swamps and dense jungle. The largest town in 1870 was Key West, with a population of 10,000 people.

Flagler more or less created the resort towns of Palm Beach, Delray, Fort Lauderdale, Homestead and Miami. He developed the land, infrastructure, hotels and housing.

His greatest feat was extending Florida’s railway system from Miami all the way down to Key West. It took eight years to complete. Considering the technology available at the time and the terrible conditions under which it was completed, it stands as one of the most impressive engineering feats ever constructed.

And the craziest thing about this development is that Flagler funded it all out of his own pocket. There was no government help.

However, the personal toll was even greater than the financial cost to pull this off.

Flagler oversaw every detail of his projects. His work schedule was so brutal he became estranged from his wife. His health failed him. Eventually he had a nervous breakdown.

Christopher Knowlton notes the personal cost to Flagler in his book Bubble in the Sun:

As Flagler told the journalist Edwin Lefèvre in 1909, “I don’t know of anyone who has been successful, but that he has been compelled to pay some price for success. Some get it at the loss of their health, others forego the pleasures of home and spend their years in the forest or mines; some acquire success at the loss of their character, and so it goes. Many prices are paid.”1

Success does not come for free.

If you want to be uber-successful in business you are likely going to have to forego your family, health or social life in some way.

If you desire a more balanced lifestyle you likely have to pass up on some career opportunities.

The same is true when it comes to your finances.

You could save a bunch of money when you’re young to retire early but you’re going to be forced to delay gratification and miss out on plenty of fun stuff you can only do in your youth.

Or you could spend it all when you’re young but that means you’re going to miss out on the benefits of compounding and be forced to save even more when you’re older.

You could live in a desirable area of the country but the cost of living is going to be high because, newsflash, lots of other people want to live in desirable areas of the country too.

Or you could live somewhere off the beaten path where the cost of living is lower but you’ll likely have to forego other opportunities for those lower costs.

You could put all of your money into the stock market but be forced to deal with crashes, bone-crushing volatility and painful lost decades as a trade-off for higher expected returns in the long-run.

Or you could keep all of your money in cash to do away with short-term volatility and crashes as a trade-off for lower expected returns in the long-run.

The good news is no one has it all figured out. There is no such thing as a perfectly balanced lifestyle. There is give and take in most endeavors that matter.

It’s important to note there are always going to be trade-offs when you’re searching for success in any area of life.

No one can have it all.

If you do try to have it all, you’re more likely to end up with nothing than everything.

Further Reading:
As Old as the Hills

1If you’re a Jesse Livermore fan, you should recognize Lefèvre’s name as the author of Reminiscences of a Stock Operator.

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