Success is a journey not a destination. — Anonymous
Many of us act as if success is a permanent state that we’re working to reach. We think, “One day, I’m finally going to be ‘successful’ and then I’ll have it made from there on out.” Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. You’re never going to get to the point where you can just kick back, put your life on cruise control, and enjoy “success.” When you get a chance to meet successful people, you find this out. Some of them are falling apart. Some are absolutely miserable. That’s no surprise. It’s tougher, in some respects, to be a success than failure because you have something to lose and everything can fall apart. Here are some examples of how that can happen.
7) Mike Tyson: Spend Money Frivolously.
There are a lot of negative things you can say about Mike Tyson — so many in fact that you could dispute whether he was ever a “success” in the first place. Still, he became one of the best boxers who ever lived, a world-famous, heavyweight champ who earned $400 million. That sounds like such an enormous amount of money that you almost couldn’t spend it if you tried, but Tyson rose to the challenge. He acquired Siberian tigers, paid 6 figures for jewelry, bought multiple mansions, found a way to spend hundreds of thousands on cell phones and pagers, and spent almost half a million on a birthday party. Next thing you know, a man who made what most folks would consider an inexhaustible supply of money was bankrupt.
This can happen to people more easily than they realize because lifestyle tends to expand to fit income — and sometimes a little beyond. Next thing you know, they catch a bad break or have a drop and they find that they can’t roll their fixed expenses back enough to get in the black. Suddenly they’re in debt, getting further behind each month, and heading towards disaster. It happened with Tyson and it happens with a lot of others.
6) Jim Bakker: Break the Law.
A wildly successful televangelist, Jim Bakker’s ministry earned a devoted audience and he accumulated a surprisingly large fortune for a preacher. Over time, Bakker’s show managed to reach 12 million people a week and he even built Heritage USA, one of the most successful theme parks in America. However, Bakker’s success didn’t last. He had sex outside of marriage with Jessica Hahn and may have even drugged and raped her, depending on whom you believe. He also kept two sets of books and eventually served time in prison for mail and wire fraud.
The truth is that you can sometimes get away with doing the wrong thing. You can cheat on your wife, embezzle money, take drugs, drink yourself to sleep every night, etc., etc. People do it all the time. This leads people to believe that if they get away with it once, they always will. That’s often not so and when the things people do in the dark emerge into the light it can shatter their lives. Even before that, they have to live with the gnawing worry that someone will find out what they’re doing. Wouldn’t it be better to just do the right thing in the first place?
5) Steve Jobs: Don’t Mind Your Health.
The legendary founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, was famous not just for the success of his company, but for his charisma and wealth. This was a man with a bright future — until he got a rare form of pancreatic cancer. Despite the fact that the standard treatment of this less lethal form of pancreatic cancer was immediate surgery, Jobs chose to wait for 9 months. Perhaps that’s not surprising given that Jobs was notoriously picky about what he ate (he had a tendency to eat nothing but one or two foods, like apples and carrots, for weeks at a time) and was devoted to alternative medicine, but had he not allowed his cancer to worsen for 9 months, he might have lived a long, healthier life. Instead, one of the greatest minds of our generation died at 56.
4) Huma Abedin: Marry Poorly.
Have you ever seen Huma Abedin? She looks like an exotic model — but, she’s not just an attractive woman. She’s deputy chief of staff and a trusted aide to Hillary Clinton. Not too shabby, right? Well, then she upped the ante even further by marrying an attractive, up-and-coming congressman with a reputation as a lady killer. How much better does it get than that? Unfortunately for Huma, she married Anthony Weiner, a man who apparently showed his Weiner to every woman he could find on Twitter even though he and Huma had been married for less than a year. When the scandal broke, Weiner turned into a national joke, resigned from Congress, and to top it all off, Huma was pregnant. So far, they’re still together, but you have to feel pity for any woman who has to endure that kind of national humiliation at the beginning of her marriage.
Marrying the wrong person is a mistake from which many people never recover. It can turn a happy life into turmoil, wreck finances, and make people lose trust in other human beings.
3) Nikola Tesla: Give Up.
One of the most brilliant minds ever to walk the earth, innovative scientist Nikola Tesla rubbed shoulders with other greats like Edison, Einstein, and Marconi. He was a national hero in his home country, which is now part of Croatia. He invented AC power and fluorescent lighting and his ideas made modern radio possible. That may undersell his accomplishments since a number of talented scientists worked on similar things in his day and there were often disputes about who really deserved the credit for these inventions. Tesla could have done so much more in his life, but eventually, after going into debt and becoming frustrated by his inability to get funding for a major project he wanted to work on, one of the greatest minds in human history gave up. He spent the last third of his life feeding pigeons, coming up with half-baked ideas that he never bothered to test in the lab, and issuing overwrought statements to the press that caused the public to think he was off-his-rocker. Tesla lived so devoted to science that he never married so he’d have more time for his work, yet he wasted a third of his life.
Some people fall into a rut and let life pass them by. It’s understandable how that can happen. After all, a person in motion tends to stay in motion, while a person at rest will tend to stay at rest (hat tip to Newton). But there is no standing in place in life. You’re either growing or rotting. Nobody can afford to just coast through life and the people who do pay a terrible price for it.
2) Howard Hughes: Withdraw Into Mental Illness.
Famous, politically well-connected, and extraordinarily wealthy, Howard Hughes directed hit movies, built airplanes, and broke flight records. He married a gorgeous actress named Jean Peters and seemed to live the life of dreams.
But when physical injuries from an airplane crash ruined his health, he began to give in to mental illness, and eventually, Hughes withdrew from the world and surrounded himself with “yes men” who did whatever he asked, no matter how weird. Over time Hughes, who was one of the most famous and important men in the country, grew so isolated that many people concluded he was terminally ill or even dead. To the contrary, Hughes declined further into mental illness, paranoia, and quirkiness. In time his wife, supposedly the only woman he ever loved, filed for divorce. She could only talk to him by phone for years. After Hughes died, one of the most admired men of the last century looked so unrecognizable that investigators needed fingerprints to identify him because his 6’4″ frame had withered down to 90 pounds and he had a shaggy beard along with grotesque, long fingernails.
After a bad marriage or a betrayal from a friend, it can be easy to lose faith in people and withdraw to keep from being hurt. Big mistake. You can listen to all the songs you want telling you that you’re a rock, but that doesn’t make it so. Human beings are social animals and we need connections with others for health and happiness.
1) Len Bias: Surrender to Drugs.
There are so many big names who could fit as examples here, but one of the most tragic has to be Len Bias. He was truly a great college basketball player and he became a first-team All-American. When he went pro, he was picked second in the NBA draft by the world champion Boston Celtics. So he was going to begin his career playing beside people like Larry Bird and Kevin McHale on one of the greatest basketball teams in history. On top of the huge contract he was going to get from the Celtics, he reportedly signed a 3 million dollar shoe deal with Reebok. How much better does it get than that? He was a 22-year-old kid who was famous, in great shape, wealthy, and about to start playing the game he loved for the best team on Planet Earth. Two days later he was dead. Apparently, Bias decided to celebrate his wonderful fortune by getting high on cocaine; he overdosed and had a heart attack. Then it was game over for someone who had the world at his feet.
Not everybody who drinks becomes an alcoholic, not everyone who uses drugs becomes an addict, and certainly, not everyone who takes cocaine dies from it. Still, there’s not a person reading this who hasn’t heard a dozen stories about how people have flapjacked their own lives with addictions. Of course, people always assume that it won’t happen to them. The scary thing about all those people who did destroy their lives with drugs or alcohol? They thought the exact same thing before they got started.