The House that Vanderbilt Built

Recently, I spent a glorious day in a quaint area of New England where the Industrial Age’s rich and famous built their summer “cottages.” I emphasize the word cottage because this is what wealthy families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries called their Newport, Rhode Island homes. These edifices were simply summer get-always, perhaps used six to eight weeks at best during the fairest days along the Atlantic seaboard.

To you and me in modern times, these “cottages” are nothing less than some of America’s early mansions. I took a tour of one of the finest—the house that Cornelius Vanderbilt II built called “the Breakers.” The guided tour described this fabulous home of the gilded era in an almost apologetic tone (a 21st century trend of apologizing for success that is worthy of a future blog). Vanderbilt took only two years to construct his amazing summer palace. This small castle, that replicated the old world in a blossoming new one, would cost approximately $35 million in today’s currency.

In his day, Vanderbilt managed the family’s fortune, amassed in the transpiration industry which forever changed the landscape and economy of the then fledgling United States. He took great pride in designing the Breakers, but sadly Vanderbilt spent only one summer in his glistening paradise.

As I watched sparkling waves dance at the end of the Breaker’s waterfront property, I thought of several lessons leaders can learn from Cornelius Vanderbilt, perhaps the most obvious one being this:   enjoy your life, right here and right now! Vanderbilt had no idea the finishing touches on his cottage would be some of the last things he accomplished in his industrious life. Here are a few other thoughts to consider:

*Are you relishing each day of your professional life—or has it become a grind you’re simply enduring day-in and day-out?

*In your personal life, what are you leaving behind? A great family name? Kids who will carry on, and do so quite well, long after you are gone?

Take an inventory of your professional and personal life today. Don’t keep building something in the hopes that “one day” you’ll get to enjoy it. Build what will truly last, and delight in each day you get to do just that!

Leave a Reply