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I Watched Griselda on Netflix and Learned the Wrong Lesson

Quit while you still have a head, I always say (spoilers ahead)

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A beautiful woman holding a gun and guarding a pile of money

This doesn’t look much like Sophia Vergara, but neither does Sophia Vergara, in Griselda — Created in Midjourney

If you watched Titanic and were surprised when the boat sank, you probably shouldn’t keep reading this article. Spoilers ahead. 

My wife and I recently binged Griselda, the story of Colombian housewife Griselda Blanco, who emigrated to Miami and created and ran the high end cocaine market of that city for a decade. I thought it was going to be an uplifting and heartwarming story of a woman who defies stereotypical norms and rises to power in a world dominated by idiots (men).

But no.

By the end of Griselda, everyone dies or fails to get what they wanted. The people chasing Griselda die. Griselda’s children are hunted down and killed. The cop who catches her stops being a detective. Lots of people lose their heads, some via machete, others via paranoia. Griselda? Dies.

I woke up the morning after completing the series, unmotivated and emotionally distraught. My favourite character, Griselda’s husband and father of her youngest child, died completely pointlessly.

What was the lesson to be taken away from all of this unbridled ambition, greed, and mayhem? I thought about the pointlessness of life in general. I’ve had some success in life, I should be feeling good about myself, but what’s the point? 

Some day other people will live in my beautiful house. Some day my children will grow old and die. Some day Ibiza will sink beneath a rising ocean, and Häagen-Dazs will stop serving peppermint ice cream. So what’s the point?

But that was the wrong lesson.

There’s a moment in Griselda’s story where she has an opportunity to walk away from the entire business with the equivalent of $100 million in today’s dollars. She could sell her business to her rivals, take the money, and retire to a villa in the south of France, living a life of obscurity, and raising her four children with a husband who loves her. 

But she decides she wants more. That she owns Miami. That she worked so hard to get what she has, she can’t give it up. How DARE they try to take all of that away from her!

And you can guess what happens next. What always happens next. It happened to Gordon Gekko, it happened to Bernie Madoff, it is in the midst of happening to Elon Musk. In the constant pursuit of more, all comes tumbling down.

A few years ago, my home province of Ontario, Canada, was in the midst of legalizing cannabis retail stores. The government decided to hold a lottery to hand out retail licenses, and anybody could apply. It was a license to print money. 

I don’t use cannabis — it makes me nauseated and I immediately fall asleep. 

I had just sold my company and I was financially independent — I didn’t need more money.

So what did I decide I wanted? I wanted more

I applied for a license to sell a product I didn’t enjoy into a market I didn’t understand to get money I didn’t need. 

I won a license. Instead of a single store, I decided to open six stores. I was so sure of the profits that I asked my friends to invest in the business, with guaranteed profits. 

Everything went to shit. 

COVID closures hit while the stores were still in construction. A business partner declared bankruptcy. The government allowed unlimited competition by the time COVID ended, making my exclusive lottery license worthless. 

I lost $4 million, some of it being the money I took on as investment from my friends. 

All because I wanted more

If I enjoyed cannabis, and if I had some desire to be in the cannabis business, the losses would have been tolerable. At least I was doing something I deemed worthwhile. When I opened a bar in downtown Toronto, it didn’t matter to me if it made money, I was in love with the idea of it. And guess what? It’s one of the most successful bars in the city.

Do things because they’re worthwhile and you want to do them, not because they’ll make money. Not because you want more.

Money is always an intermediary to something else. Security? Freedom? Better mating options?

Know your real objectives, and keep reminding yourself. Do you want to be a good mother and raise happy healthy children as Griselda Blanco said she wanted? Hint: running a vast criminal empire isn’t the way to go, Griselda. 

And when you achieve some level of financial success, remind yourself of your true, underlying, objectives. Have you achieved them? If you have, stop playing offense and start playing defence. Step off the success elevator on your own terms, instead of when you get thrown off, or when the elevator breaks down. 

Quit while you’re ahead. Quit while you’re in control.

Stop wanting more.

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