The Liabilities of Success

Bryan Johnson is spending millions of dollars each year towards a singular ambition—to slow his aging. His meticulous morning routine begins with light therapy during meditation. He follows this up by consuming The Green Giant, a pre-workout drink concocted from a blend of six diverse supplements, and strict regimen of over 50 different pills. All of this before his 1-hour workout, his skincare protocol, and, finally, breakfast.

Johnson lays out his entire system, which he calls Blueprint, online for all to see. Not only does he share what supplements he consumes and in which amounts, but he also discloses his biomarker data as proof of his success. According to his website, Johnson is aging (biologically) at a rate of around 9 months every year. And though he is technically 45, his biomarker data suggest that his biological age is around 42.5.

I am a bit torn on Johnson’s pursuit to slow his aging. On one hand, I am impressed by his dedication to learn more about his body and share his findings with the world. On the other hand, I am skeptical as to whether it will be worth it in the end. After all, what’s the point of living longer if you have to spend all that extra time following an elaborate longevity routine? Even if you succeed, you have very little freedom around how you get to live your life.

Johnson’s experiment demonstrates an important point about the hidden costs of achievement, or what I call the liabilities of success—for every public accomplishment, there is a private sacrifice that is often overlooked. If we view accomplishments as assets, then the sacrifices made to achieve them can be seen as liabilities. More importantly, these sacrifices aren’t just made once, but over and over again.

In Johnson’s case, he sacrifices his time, money, and biological impulses (i.e. eating a less restrictive diet) to pursue his longevity goals. And he will need to keep making these sacrifices if he wants this to continue. But, Johnson’s case isn’t unique. Many ultra-successful people make similarly extreme sacrifices when chasing their goals as well:

It’s easy to idolize the accomplishments of those who are more successful than you, but it’s hard to understand the price they paid for that success.

This is why you have to think deeply about what liabilities you are willing to take on prior to embarking on a new project. For example, before starting a business, you should ask yourself, “Do I want to own the successful version of this business?” Because envisioning what the successful version looks like will make it easier for you to determine whether you should start at all.

This idea comes from my friend and fellow content creator Khe Hy and can be applied in many domains. For example:

Imagining the “successful version” of your future goals is the best way to determine whether they’re right for you.

This is why I haven’t started a podcast or a YouTube channel or a TikTok. I did this thought experiment myself and realized that I didn’t want to spend tons of hours forcing myself to create even more content on top of my full time job and what I publish here. One blog post per week is enough of a liability for me to make decent side money without having it consume my life. This arrangement gives me more leisure time, which, I believe, is the main reason why I haven’t burned out or missed a week after publishing nearly 350 blog posts.

Ultimately, this tradeoff reminds me of the story of the Mexican fisherman. The story tells of an investment banker vacationing in a small seaside town in Mexico. He notices a local fisherman pulling up to the dock in a small boat with a few freshly caught fish. The banker asks the fisherman, “How long did it take you to catch those fish?” The fisherman replies, “Oh, not too long.”

The banker then asks, “Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” The fisherman responds, “I don’t need to. I already have enough to support my family.” The banker then asks, “Well, how do you spend the rest of your time then?”

To which the fisherman replies:

I sleep late. I fish a little. I play with my kids. I take siesta with my wife. And every night I go into the village, have some wine, and play guitar with my friends.

The banker, looking a bit puzzled, says:

But, if you catch more fish, then you could sell them and earn enough to buy a bigger boat. And with that bigger boat you could catch even more fish and then hire a crew. Eventually you could buy a few boats and have many fisherman working for you catching more fish than you ever dreamed of. And if you keep doing this, you could eventually sell your business for millions and retire rich.

The fisherman asks, “And then what?” To which the investment banker replied:

Then you can sleep late. Fish a little. Play with your kids. Take siesta with your wife. And every night you could go into the village, have some wine, and play guitar with your friends.

There are a lot of people who talk about the story of the Mexican fisherman as they scramble to do more, more, more. But, some of us actually get the lesson—success always comes with liabilities. Choose yours wisely.

Thank you for reading.

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This is post 349. Any code I have related to this post can be found here with the same numbering:

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