Photo by Brannon Naito on Unsplash

The Hidden Costs of Success No One Ever Talks About

Nothing’s free. Is success worth the price?

You’ve been drudging through your existence for some time now. You’re older, have fewer aspirations, and are more resigned to your fate.

You think back to the times where you seemingly had it all — freedom, hope, dreams you still believed would come true.

Amidst your episode of apathy, while sipping a latte at a coffee shop, a stranger approaches you and starts a conversation. The conversation grows stranger and stranger. This person knows intimate details of your life and has a solution for you.

The deal is simple — in exchange for one day of your past, you get your old life back for a day. You can experience your life as it was — unencumbered, no ball-chain-and-little-chains tied to your foot. You get to do what you want and you simply give up a random and insignificant day of your past.

You take the deal — all the while failing to consider its too-good-to-be-true-nature. Well, you’re a bit suspicious, but at this point, your life is in the doldrums and one pick me up day would go a long way.

You agree to the terms.


You experience the perfect day. You have no responsibilities whatsoever. “This deal ain’t so shabby after all,” you tell yourself. For the moment, your worries and suspicion are gone.

The day flies by and you have blast.

You’re a little sad it’s going to end, but it’s just the remedy you needed. You’re re-charged, ready to go back to your family — you even miss them a little bit.

You wake up the next day. You roll over to greet your significant other, but they’re not in bed. No worries, maybe they’re in the kitchen making breakfast.

No one in the kitchen.

You visit your kids’ rooms. They’re gone. Not only that, but their rooms aren’t their rooms. One’s an office, the other is a guest room.

Then, it hits you. Something weird is going on. There are no photos and friends and family on your walls.

The more you inspect the home you realize there is no evidence of you having a family at all, anywhere.

The investigation starts.


Your partner grew up in the same town you live in now. Your spidey senses tell you to visit their childhood home.

You knock — their parents ask for the door.

After hearing the details of your investigation, they come to the conclusion that you are insane. First off, they tell you they have no idea who you are. Second, they warn you to stay away from their progeny. Third, they are about to call the cops.

You’re feeling a combination of dejection and insanity. You call your own parents for comfort. Your twilight zone episode of a day gets even worse.

“man wearing white dress shirt near sea” by Steven Spassov on Unsplash

They don’t know who you are.

You call all of your family and friends — none of them know who you are.

You’re on the last rope of your strange wild goose chase. Where do you turn? Google, obviously. You search for your birth records, news clippings about you — anything having to do with your existing. For all intents and purposes — you don’t.

Something tells you to go back to the coffee shop where you met this strange person. They’re there sitting at a coffee table. You sit down across from them. You’re fuming.

“What have you done to me?”

“You said I could take away any day from your past…”

“I didn’t say you could erase my life completely! Give it back.”

“You should’ve thought about the details of the arrangement more carefully.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“The day I took away from your past? It was the day you were born.”


The story I told you is a modified version of a scene from a t.v. episode about Shrek

He makes this deal with Rumplestiltskin and loses his family in the process. In the end, he gets his family back. They live happily ever after.

Unfortunately, happily ever afters don’t always happen in real life.

I’ve watched Shrek and about ten million other kids movies with my almost three year old daughter.

She’s gorgeous. Precocious to the point of inducing awe. She cares about three things — our attention, having fun, and candy.

Sometimes we enjoy a movie, playtime, or random moments in a day like going to the grocery store. I’m spending time with her — really spending time with her — and my only focus is on the present moment.

All too often, though, she doesn’t get to have all of me. Neither does my wife, or my friends, or anybody else for that matter.

I’m on my phone answering an email for a client. I’m looking up a new marketing strategy to use on one of my websites. I’m parked in front of the T.V. watching football all day to take a break from my chaotic work and business life.

I’m there, but I’m not there.

It’s all for a good cause, though. All the work is going to pay off. It is paying off.

“closeup photo of 100 US dollar banknotes” by Pepi Stojanovski on Unsplash

I’m starting to earn hand over first for my writing. I get literally dozens of emails per day from people wanting to be a client, share a story on how I changed their life, or pick my brain because they think I can help.

I’m successful.

I’m not all the way there yet, though.


Six figures isn’t going to take care of us forever. Seven, no eight, surely will. Speaking of six, seven, and eight — it’ll only take that number of years to really accomplish the dream.

They’ll see. They’ll be thankful for everything. We’ll be able to do everything we want — travel, piss off for days at a time because we can, live out everything in our imagination.

The sacrifice would be worth it. I won’t be like Shrek (yes I understand the weirdness of that phrase). I don’t have to make a deal with the devil. I can prioritize, do the work, make time for people, focus. I’ll do it all. And I’ll succeed.

Yeah, they’ll see.


My dad used to fall asleep at his desk at his home office. I don’t know why that memory of him sticks out to me the most.

He’d work 16 hour days. He owned a transportation company for the sick and elderly, moonlighted as a D.J. and a photographer, spent time here and there visiting car auctions to find good deals and flip the vehicles.

It’s a Nigerian thing. Trying to find the next gold rush is in our DNA.

He had a club of sorts where he’d meet with his brothers and other friends to talk about business ideas. They used to talk for hours, paying us no mind at all, and they’d always be excited about the next big move.

And, of course, there’d always be a next move. Just wait and see, he’d say.

He’d tried to explain this to our mom while they had screaming matches in the basement as my brother and I sat on the stairs. He was never home. His gigs required him to be out until 3 a.m. Then, he’d be up at 6 to warm up the vans.

Even when he was there — vacations, taking my brother and me to get a new toy or video game, playing soccer in our backyard — he wasn’t there.

There was always a call to take. Our play times were always cut short.

It was okay, though, right? He was going to “hit it big,” and everything would be water under the bridge over a river of a quaint European country we frequented on a type of boat with a name we couldn’t pronounce.

I realize this is a white woman and not my Nigerian father, but it works in the setting of the story ok? by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

The big moment never came. I will spare you the gory details, but this path to entrepreneur’s paradise ended in separation, a strained relationship with his children (for years), and (if I venture to take a stab at his mental state) a sense of regret.

Aside from the memory I have of him falling asleep at his desk, there’s another extremely vivid one — watching him sob (the only time I’ve seen him cry in my life) while he tried to explain why all of his belongings were on our front yard and not inside of the house where they belonged.


Truth be told, I don’t think my dad had the wrong intentions. He just didn’t go about the process the right way.

I’m too smart to let the same things happen to me. I can paint a clearer picture of the future and deliver on it. I’m smarter. I know the business game better. There’s no one on the planet quite like me. I got this. I’ll never be like him, or, again, Shrek the ogre.

Lying to yourself is an art. You need just the right amount of truth and the perfect concentration of good intention cement mix to pave your own road to hell. Too much, and your delusion will be too obvious. Not enough, and you don’t have enough fuel for your erred ways.

“man showing photo of him” by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

I wrote a piece about this once — The 3 biggest Lies We Tell Ourselves About Life, Happiness, and Success.

One of the lies, maybe the central one — the idea there’s this hurdle to overcome that will give you the feelings of contentment, accomplishment, and satisfaction you’re looking for.

We all logically know this to be false, but our emotions and hidden biases aren’t huge fans of logic.

If you’re an ambitious person like me, you may have learned how to lie to yourself at a con-artist level. You almost have to.

How else can you show up every day to do the work? How can you isolate yourself from the world in pursuit of your goals without the lie?

I’m lying to myself, know it, and forge ahead anyway. I have to win, not only for myself, but for them — family, friends, community, the world. They need me to do this. I’m the hero. It will all work out.


The best T.V. show of all time — Breaking Bad — is about a chemistry teacher who starts cooking meth to pay for his cancer treatment.

He starts with dubious yet oddly noble intentions. He’d cook enough meth to pay for his treatment and then stop.

Of course things didn’t work out this way. In the process, (lots of) people die, relationships are ruined, and Walter finds himself on the run from the law. After spending months tucked away in a remote location to evade capture, Walter comes home. He’s ready. He knows the price he paid and it’s time to foot the bill.

Before he gives himself up, he visits his home to talk to his wife.

They have their final heart to heart. Still stuck in a pit of his rationalizations, Walter tries to explain the sacrifices he made and why they were worth it. His wife got mixed up in the death, crime, and life-threatening situations that come with having a drug-lord for a husband. She knows the price. She paid it.

“woman raising middle finger” by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

“ If I have to hear one more time that you did this for the family…”

“ I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And… I was really… I was alive.”

There it is. The truth. The truth I as well as many other ambitious people know. Sometimes, oftentimes, most of the times, you’re doing it for yourself.

You want to feel alive. You want to break the monotony of your life, master your craft, make a dent in the universe. Winning is your addiction.

The Pyrrhic Victory

Inthe book, the War of Art, the author Steven Pressfield talks about “the resistance.” It’s the evil force of self-doubt keeping you from reaching your dreams and goals.

One can’t just “overcome self-doubt.” To beat the resistance, you must wage war with it. You’re in a lifelong battle to become the best version of yourself, consequences be damned.

Pressfield himself mentions writing through the divorces, lost friendships, times of despair, long periods of isolation, and the other hundred and fifty pounds of mud and shit you may to wade through to fulfill your life’s purpose.

If you’ve “accepted the fight,” you know what I’m talking about.

Like a true warrior, you are away from your family. You are sacrificing your wellbeing — the physical toll of trying to master the universe and stressing yourself out in the process can actually kill you.

But it will all be worth it when the hero’s journey is complete.

You’ll come home victorious…one day.

You just have to conquer a little bit more territory. Fight one more battle. Vanquish a few more enemies.

But there’s always more territory to conquer and more battles to fight.

You chase the myth of ‘the last battle.’ You’re like the bank-robber who needs to land one more heist. But, on the last job, at least the one you say is your last job, you meet your maker.

You ‘won’ quite a bit. But they were Pyrrhic victories:

pyr·rhic1
/ˈpirik/
adjective
(of a victory) won at too great a cost to have been worthwhile for the victor.

The cops come barreling in and you die in a blaze of glory. You never do get your day of birth back and you’re stuck in the world alone. The home you once loved is no longer yours and your belongings are strewn about the front yard.


Where do you come into this picture and meandering story?

Maybe you’re like me — the overly driven person willing to sacrifice everything.

Or you want to be like me because you think it’s worth it — grind and hustle til you succeed or bust, right?

Or maybe you’re actually happy and content (kudos to you).

Either way the moral of the story is the same — nothing in life is free. Everything has a cost. It’s up to you to decide how to spend your time, prioritize your relationships, and try to get this messy life-purpose-dream-mission-goal thing figured out.

I don’t know the right answer. I’m trying to figure it out for myself. The only goal I have is giving you another piece of perspective to use in your life’s puzzle.

Choose wisely.


Whenever I do something my kid wants — like give her candy — she tries to condition me afterward.

“You’re a good dad,” she says. I know she’s trying to procure her next M&M, but I also know she means it.

My wife tells me how great of a husband, dad, and person I’ve become. And she means it — but she’s only talking about the times when I’m there.

My biggest accomplishments in life need not do with writing, money, or success. I need to find my “there” and stay there.

So do you.