You share something with the richest men in history. A story.
“He built so much of this city,” I thought to myself. My early morning flight circled Manhattan as our pilot lined up with the runway.
We landed, and I hopped on a bus to scout out his old neighborhood.
He lived his last 20 years or so in a townhouse on No. 10 Washington Place. I wanted to see it. Really, I wanted to feel it.
Sure, that’s an odd thing to want, but I try to feel history when I can.
By all accounts, Cornelius Vanderbilt had a presence people could feel, even into old age. I’ve been around influential, powerful, rich people before, but none of his magnitude. Few of us have. The closest I could get was to see his townhome on 10 Washington Place.
Too bad it’s not there anymore. At least, I couldn’t find it!
I wander through libraries like I wander through cities.
Each book is somebody’s world, so each trip to the library is like a mini-vacation for me. I’ll stroll through the aisles like I’ll stroll through New York City neighborhoods. But instead of apartments, I gaze at book covers.
As I strolled through the aisles on my latest mini-vacation, a golden cover caught my eye: The Richest Man Who Ever Lived.
“Has to be Rockefeller,” I thought, “or an oil prince or an old monarch.”
I pulled the book off the shelf. On the cover was a painting of a man with a calm, stern gaze. He had a gold beanie on his head. The full title of the gold-covered book was on the front. It also had a subtitle.
The Richest Man Who Ever Lived: The Life and Times of Jacob Fugger.
Lesson #1: No matter how much money you make, most will never know you.
Have you ever heard of Jacob Fugger?
If you have, kudos to you! History is a wonderful thing to know. But I sure had no clue who he was, and I’m a self-anointed amateur money history buff. Maybe I should denounce that title.
On the other hand, many folks know about Cornelius Vanderbilt. You don’t even have to be a self-proclaimed amateur money history buff like me (or like I once was). First, he was the steamboat guy. Somewhat reluctantly, he was the stock market guy. Ultimately, he was the railroad guy.
T.J. Stiles–an incredible historian who writes in a way that I can understand–wrote the definitive piece on Vanderbilt’s epic life. The title says it all about Vanderbilt’s standing in our culture: The First Tycoon.
While Vanderbilt was the first tycoon, Fugger was the first modern capitalist.
But still, his name doesn’t ring a bell.
I’ll be the first to tell you that money matters.
Personally, I like money.
Actually, I love money. So did many of the richest who ever lived, like Vanderbilt and Fugger. And the same goes for many of the wealthiest who live today.
At the same time, so do many of the poorest.
Loving money–as well as the things money brings–isn’t a bad thing.
However, living for money takes a man’s life.
“Did success make Fugger happy?” author Greg Steinmetz wrote in the prologue of The Richest Man Who Ever Lived. “Probably not…”
Jacob Fugger died in 1525 with few friends. Instead of his wife at his side–she was with her lover–he only had his paid assistants.
Steinmetz notes that gathering money was Fugger’s only objective.
Gathering people was obviously not.
Lesson #2: Make a bunch of money, and people will remember you.
Maybe you hadn’t heard of Jacob Fugger until now, but now you’ve heard of him.
I hadn’t heard of him, but I’m reading a book about him. He was worth much and worth writing about.
Vanderbilt left behind a large footprint (and a large inheritance). Large amounts of money certainly draw outsiders’ attention. Sometimes, for generations.
But there’s more to being remembered than huge amounts of money.
$6.3 billion in debt.
Meet the “poorest” man in the world, Jerome Kerviel.
He made fraudulent trades that cost a French bank a very pretty penny.
Kerviel has the complete opposite as Vanderbilt and Fugger. This proves that there’s something more than massive amounts of money that make people memorable.
What made Kerviel and Vanderbilt and Fugger memorable is something that you have too.
You have a story.
This might sound fluffy, but stay with me.
Money definitely matters. Maybe it matters to you a lot, just like it does to me. But always remember, there’s more to you than your money.
Imagine your biography.
The author asks, “Did his success make him happy?”
The answer is yours to write.
Photo: Flickr/Sam valadi